OF MR. POLLY
H. G* WELLS
TONO-BUNGAY. ETC.. ETC.
GROSSET & DUNLAP
PUBLISHERS :: NEW YORK
BY DUFFIELD & COMPANY
I BEGINNINGS, AND THE BAZAAR .- , m 3
II DISMISSAL OF PARSONS . ....,:., -. 33
III CRIBS , . ... . . . . , ..-. : . :., 49
IV MR. POLLY AN ORPHAN . : . . .- . i 65
V MR. POLLY TAKES A VACATION mm*** 97
VI MIRIAM .... ; ., ... ... ,., . : . . 127
VII THE LITTLE SHOP AT FISHBOURNE . 173
VIII MAKING AN END TO THINGS . ,., . . 211
IX THE POTWELL INN . . . , : .. > 243
X MIRIAM REVISITED .. : , ; .. : ; , : ., M : ., 303
The History of Mr. Polly
CHAPTER THE FIRST
BEGINNINGS, AND THE BAZAAR
"TT TTOLE!" said Mr. Polly, and then for a
1 1 change, and with greatly increased em-
JL JL phasis : " Ole ! " He paused, and then broke
out with one of his private and peculiar idioms. " Oh !
Beastly Silly Wheeze of a Hole ! "
He was sitting on a stile between two threadbare look-
ing fields, and suffering acutely from indigestion.
He suffered from indigestion now nearly every after-
noon in his life, but as he lacked introspection he pro-
jected the associated discomfort upon the world. Every
afternoon he discovered afresh that life as a whole and
every aspect of life that presented itself was " beastly."
And this afternoon, lured by the delusive blueness of a
sky that was blue because the wind was in the east, he
had come out in the hope of snatching something of the
joyousness of spring. The mysterious alchemy of mind
and body refused, however, to permit any joyousness
whatever in the spring.
4 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
He had had a little difficulty in finding his cap before
he came out. He wanted his cap the new golf cap
and Mrs. Polly must needs fish out his old soft brown felt
hat. " 'Ere's your 'at," she said in a tone of insincere en-
He had been routing among the piled newspapers under
the kitchen dresser, and had turned quite hopefully and
taken the thing. He put it on. But it didn't feel right.
Nothing felt right. He put a trembling hand upon the
crown of the thing and pressed it on his head, and tried it
askew to the right and then askew to the left.
Then the full sense of the indignity offered him came
home to him. The hat masked the upper sinister quarter
of his face, and he spoke with a wrathful eye regarding
his wife from under the brim. In a voice thick with fury
he said : " I s'pose you'd like me to wear that silly Mud
Pie for ever, eh? I tell you I won't. I'm sick of it. I'm
pretty near sick of everything, comes to that. . . .
He clutched it with quivering fingers. " Hat ! " he
repeated. Then he flung it to the ground, and kicked it
with extraordinary fury across the kitchen. It flew up
against the door and dropped to the ground with its rib-
bon band half off.
" Shan't go out ! " he said, and sticking his hands into
his jacket pockets discovered the missing cap in the right
There was nothing for it but to go straight upstairs
without a word, and out, slamming the shop door hard.
BEGINNINGS, 'AND THE BAZAAR 5
" Beauty ! " said Mrs. Polly at last to a tremendous
silence, picking up and dusting the rejected headdress.
"Tantrums," she added. "I 'aven't patience." And
moving with the slow reluctance of a deeply offended
woman, she began to pile together the simple apparatus
of their recent meal, for transportation to the scullery
The repast she had prepared for him did not seem to
her to justify his ingratitude. There had been the cold
pork from Sunday and some nice cold potatoes, and
Rashdall's Mixed Pickles, of which he was inordinately
fond. He had eaten three gherkins, two onions, a small
cauliflower head and several capers with every appear-
ance of appetite, and indeed with avidity; and then there
had been cold suet pudding to follow, with treacle, and
then a nice bit of cheese. It was the pale, hard sort of
cheese he liked ; red cheese he declared was indigestible.
He had also had three big slices of greyish baker's bread,
and had drunk the best part of the jugful of beer. . . .
But there seems to be no pleasing some people.
" Tantrums.! " said Mrs. Polly at the sink, struggling
with the mustard on his plate and expressing the only
solution of the problem that occurred to her.
And Mr. Polly sat on the stile and hated the whole
scheme of life which was at once excessive and inade-
quate as a solution. He hated Foxbourne, he hated Fox-
bourne High Street, he hated his shop and his wife and
his neighbours every blessed neighbour and with in-
describable bitterness he hated himself.
6 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
" Why did I ever get in this silly Hole ? " he said.
"Why did I ever?"
He sat on the stile, and looked with eyes that seemed
blurred with impalpable flaws at a world in which even
the spring buds were wilted, the sunlight metallic and
the shadows mixed with blue-black ink.
To the moralist I know he might have served as a fig-
ure of sinful discontent, but that is because it is the habit
of moralists to ignore material circumstances, if indeed
one may speak of a recent meal as a circumstance,
with Mr. Polly circum. Drink, indeed, our teachers will
criticise nowadays both as regards quantity and quality,
but neither church nor state nor school will raise a warn-
ing finger between a man and his hunger and his wife's
catering. So on nearly every day in his life Mr. Polly fell
into a violent rage and hatred against the outer world in
the afternoon, and never suspected that it was this inner
world to which I am with such masterly delicacy allud-
ing, that was thus reflecting its sinister disorder upon the
things without. It is a pity that some human beings are
not more transparent. If Mr. Polly, for example, had
been transparent or even passably translucent, then per-
haps he might have realised from the Laocoon struggle
he would have glimpsed, that indeed he was not so much
a human being as a civil war.
Wonderful things must have been going on inside Mr.
Polly. Oh ! wonderful things. It must have been like a
badly managed industrial city during a period of depres-
sion ; agitators, acts of violence, strikes, the forces of law
BEGINNINGS, AND THE BAZAAR 7
and order doing their best, rushings to and fro, up-
heavals, the Marseillaise, tumbrils, the rumble and the
thunder of the tumbrils. . . .
I do not know why the east win-d aggravates life to
unhealthy people. It made Mr. Polly's teeth seem loose in
his head, and his skin feel like a misfit, and his hair a dry,
stringy exasperation. . . .
Why cannot doctors give us an antidote to the east
" Never have the sense to get your hair cut till it's too
long," said Mr. Polly catching sight of his shadow, " you
blighted, degenerated Paintbrush ! Ugh ! " and he flat-
tened down the projecting tails with an urgent hand.
Mr. Polly's age was exactly thirty-five years and a
half. He was a short, compact figure, and a little inclined
to a localised embonpoint. His face was not unpleasing ;
the features fine, but a trifle too pointed about the nose to
be classically perfect. The corners of his sensitive mouth
were depressed. His eyes were ruddy brown and trou-
bled, and the left one was round with more of wonder in
it than its fellow. His complexion was dull and yellow-
ish. That, as I have explained, on account of those civil
disturbances. He was, in the technical sense of the word,
clean shaved, with a small sallow patch under the right
ear and a cut on the chin. His brow had the little puck-
erings of a thoroughly discontented man, little wrinklings
8 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY.
and lumps, particularly over his right eye, and he sat with
his hands in his pockets, a little askew on the stile and
swung one leg.
" Hole ! " he repeated presently.
He broke into a quavering song. " Ro-o-o-tten
Be-e-astly Silly Hole!"
His voice thickened with rage, and the rest of his dis~
course was marred by an unfortunate choice of epithets.
He was dressed in a shabby black morning coat and
vest; the braid that bound these garments was a little
loose in places; his collar was chosen from stock and
with projecting corners, technically a " wing-poke"; that
and his tie, which was new and loose and rich in colour-
ing, had been selected to encourage and stimulate cus-
tomers for he dealt in gentlemen's outfitting. His golf
cap, which was also from stock and aslant over his eye,
gave his misery a desperate touch. He wore brown
leather boots because he hated the smell of blacking.
Perhaps after all it was not simply indigestion that
Behind the superficialities of Mr. Polly's being, moved
a larger and vaguer distress. The elementary education
he had acquired had left him with the impression that
arithmetic was a fluky science and best avoided in prac-
tical affairs, but even the absence of book-keeping and a
total inability to distinguish between capital and interest
could not blind him for ever to the fact that the little
shop in the High Street was not paying. An absence of
returns, a constriction of credit, a depleted till, the most
BEGINNINGS, 'AND THE BAZAAR 9
valiant resolves to keep smiling, could not prevail for ever
against these insistent phenomena. One might bustle
about in the morning before dinner, and in the afternoon
after tea and forget that huge dark cloud of insolvency
that gathered and spread in the background, but it was
part of the desolation of these afternoon periods, these
grey spaces of time after meals, when all one's courage
had descended to the unseen battles of the pit, that life
seemed stripped to the bone and one saw with a hopeless
Let me tell the history of Mr. Polly from the cradle to
these present difficulties.
" First the infant, mewling and puking in its nurse's arms."
There had been a time when two people had thought
Mr. Polly the most wonderful and adorable thing in the
world, had kissed his toe-nails, saying " myum, myum,"
and marvelled at the exquisite softness and delicacy of
his hair, had called to one another to remark the peculiar
distinction with which he bubbled, had disputed whether
the sound he had made was just da da, or truly and inten-
tionally dadda, had washed him in the utmost detail, and
wrapped him up in soft, warm blankets, and smothered
him with kisses. A regal time that was, and four and
thirty years ago ; and a merciful forgetfulness barred Mr.
Polly from ever bringing its careless luxury, its auto-
cratic demands and instant obedience, into contrast with
his present condition of life. These two people had
10 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
worshipped him from the crown of his head to the soles
of his exquisite feet. And also they had fed him rather
unwisely, for no one had ever troubled to teach his mother
anything about the mysteries of a child's upbringing
though of course the monthly nurse and her charwoman
gave some valuable hints and by his fifth birthday the
perfect rhythms of his nice new interior were already
darkened with perplexity. . . .
His mother died when he was seven.
He began only to have distinctive memories of himself
in the time when his education had already begun.
I remember seeing a picture of Education in some
place. I think it was Education, but quite conceivably it
represented the Empire teaching her Sons, and I have a
strong impression that it was a wall painting upon some
public building in Manchester or Birmingham or Glas-
gow, but very possibly I am mistaken about that. It
represented a glorious woman with a wise and fearless
face stooping over her children and pointing them to far
horizons. The sky displayed the pearly warmth of a
summer dawn, and all the painting was marvellously
bright as if with the youth and hope of the delicately
beautiful children in the foreground. She was telling
them, one felt, of the great prospect of life that opened
before them, of the spectacle of the world, the splendours
of sea and mountain they might travel and see, the joys
of skill they might acquire, of effort and the pride of
effort and the devotions and nobilities it was theirs to
achieve. Perhaps even she whispered of the warm
BEGINNINGS, AND THE BAZAAR n
triumphant mystery of love that comes at last to those
who have patience and unblemished hearts. . . . She
was reminding them of their great heritage as English
children, rulers of more than one-fifth of mankind, of the
obligation to do and be the best that such a pride of
empire entails, of their essential nobility and knighthood
and the restraints and the charities and the disciplined
strength that is becoming in knights and rulers. . . .
The education of Mr. Polly did not follow this picture
very closely. He went for some time to a National
School, which was run on severely economical lines to
keep down the rates by a largely untrained staff, he was
set sums to do that he did not understand, and that no
one made him understand, he was made to read the
catechism and Bible with the utmost industry and an en-
tire disregard of punctuation or significance, and caused
to imitate writing copies and drawing copies, and given
object lessons upon sealing wax and silk- worms and po-
tato bugs and ginger and iron and such like things, and
taught various other subjects his mind refused to enter-
tain, and afterwards, when he was about twelve, he was
jerked by his parent to " finish off " in a private school
of dingy aspect and still dingier pretensions, where there
were no object lessons, and the studies of book-keeping
and French were pursued (but never effectually over-
taken) under the guidance of an elderly gentleman who
wore a nondescript gown and took snuff, wrote copper-
plate, explained nothing, and used a cane with remarkable
dexterity and gusto.
12 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
Mr. Polly went into the National School at six and he
left the private school at fourteen, and by that time his
mind was in much the same state that you would be in,
dear reader, if you were operated upon for appendicitis
by a well-meaning, boldly enterprising, but rather over-
worked and under-paid butcher boy, who was superseded
towards the climax of the operation by a left-handed clerk
of high principles but intemperate habits, that is to say,
it was in a thorough mess. The nice little curiosities and
willingnesses of a child were in a jumbled and thwarted
condition, hacked and cut about the operators had left,
so to speak, all their sponges and ligatures in the mangled
confusion and Mr. Polly had lost much of his natural
confidence, so far as figures and sciences and languages
and the possibilities of learning things were concerned.
He thought of the present world no longer as a wonder-
land of experiences, but as geography and history, as the
repeating of names that were hard to pronounce, and
lists of products and populations and heights and lengths,
and as lists and dates oh! and boredom indescribable.
He thought of religion as the recital of more or less in-
comprehensible words that were hard to remember, and
of the Divinity as of a limitless Being having the nature
of a schoolmaster and making infinite rules, known and
unknown rules, that were always ruthlessly enforced, and
with an infinite capacity for punishment and, most hor-
rible of all to think of! limitless powers of espial. (So
to the best of his ability he did not think of that unrelent-
ing eye.) He was uncertain about the spelling and pro-
BEGINNINGS, "AND THE BAZAAR 13
nunciation of most of the words in our beautiful but
abundant and perplexing tongue, that especially was a
pity because words attracted him, and under happier con-
ditions he might have used them well he was always
doubtful whether it was eight sevens or nine eights that
was sixty-three (he knew no method for settling the
difficulty) and he thought the merit of a drawing con-
sisted in the care with which it was " lined in." " Lining
in " bored him beyond measure.
But the indigestions of mind and body that were to
play so large a part in his subsequent career were still
only beginning. His liver and his gastric juice, his won-
ider and imagination kept up a fight against the things
that threatened to overwhelm soul and body together.
Outside the regions devastated by the school curriculum
he was still intensely curious. He had cheerful phases
of enterprise, and about thirteen he suddenly discovered
reading and its joys. He began to read stories vora-
ciously, and books of travel, provided they were also
adventurous. He got these chiefly from the local insti-
tute, and he also " took in," irregularly but thoroughly,
one of those inspiring weeklies that dull people used to
call " penny dreadfuls," admirable weeklies crammed with
imagination that the cheap boys' " comics " of to-day
have replaced. At fourteen, when he emerged from the
valley of the shadow of education, there survived some-
thing, indeed it survived still, obscured and thwarted,
at five and thirty, that pointed not with a visible and
prevailing finger like the finger of that beautiful woman
14 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
in the picture, but pointed nevertheless to the idea that
there was interest and happiness in the world. Deep in
the being of Mr. Polly, deep in that darkness, like a
creature which has been beaten about the head and left
for dead but still lives, crawled a persuasion that over
and above the things that are jolly and " bits of all right,"
there was beauty, there was delight, that somewhere
magically inaccessible perhaps, but still somewhere, were
pure and easy and joyous states of body and mind.
He would sneak out on moonless winter nights and
stare up at the stars, and afterwards find it difficult to
tell his father where he had been.
He would read tales about hunters and explorers, and
imagine himself riding mustangs as fleet as the wind
across the prairies of Western America, or coming as a
conquering and adored white man into the swarming
villages of Central Africa. He shot bears with a revolver
a cigarette in the other hand and made a necklace of
their teeth and claws for the chief's beautiful young
daughter. Also he killed a lion with a pointed stake,
stabbing through the beast's heart as it stood over him.
He thought it would be splendid to be a diver and go
down into the dark green mysteries of the sea.
He led stormers against well-nigh impregnable forts,
and died on the ramparts at the moment of victory.
(His grave was watered by a nation's tears.)
He rammed and torpedoed ships, one against ten.
He was beloved by queens in barbaric lands, and recon-
ciled whole nations to the Christian faith.
BEGINNINGS, AND THE BAZAAR 15
He was martyred, and took it very calmly and beauti-
fully but only once or twice after the Revivalist week.
It did not become a habit with him.
He explored the Amazon, and found, newly exposed
by the fall of a great tree, a rock of gold.
Engaged in these pursuits he would neglect the work
immediately in hand, sitting somewhat slackly on the
form and projecting himself in a manner tempting to a
schoolmaster with a cane. . . . And twice he had
Recalled to the realities of life, he would rub himself
or sigh deeply as the occasion required, and resume his
attempts to write as good as copperplate. He hated
writing ; the ink always crept up his fingers and the smell
of ink offended him. And he was filled with unexpressed
doubts. Why should writing slope down from right to
left? Why should downstrokes be thick and upstrokes
thin? Why should the handle of one's pen point over
one's right shoulder?
His copy books towards the end foreshadowed his
destiny and took the form of commercial documents.
"Dear Sir," they ran, "Referring to your esteemed
order of the 26th ult., we beg to inform you" and
The compression of Mr. Polly's mind and soul in the
educational institutions of his time, was terminated ab-
ruptly by his father between his fourteenth and fifteenth
birthday. His father who had long since forgotten the
time when his son's little limbs seemed to have come
16 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
straight from God's hand, and when he had kissed five
minute toe-nails in a rapture of loving tenderness
" It's time that dratted boy did something for a living."
And a month or so later Mr. Polly began that career in
business that led him at last to the sole proprietorship of
a bankrupt outfitter's shop and to the stile on which
he was sitting.
Mr, Polly was not naturally interested in hosiery and
gentlemen's outfitting. At times, indeed, he urged him-
self to a spurious curiosity about that trade, but presently
something more congenial came along and checked the
effort. He was apprenticed in one of those large, rather
low-class establishments which sell everything, from
pianos and furniture to books and millinery, a department
store in fact, The Port Burdock Drapery Bazaar at Port
Burdock, one of the three townships that are grouped
around the Port Burdock naval dockyards. There he re-
mained six years. He spent most of the time inattentive
to business, in a sort of uncomfortable happiness, increas-
ing his indigestion.
On the whole he preferred business to school ; the hours
were longer but the tension was not nearly so great.
The place was better aired, you were not kept in for no
reason at all, and the cane was not employed. You
watched the growth of your moustache with interest and
impatience, and mastered the beginnings of social inter-
BEGINNINGS, AND THE BAZAAR 17
course. You talked, and found there were things amus-
ing to say. Also you had regular pocket money, and a
voice in the purchase of your clothes, and presently a
small salary. And there were girls. And friendship!
In the retrospect Port Burdock sparkled with the facets
of quite a cluster of remembered jolly times.
("Didn't save much money though," said Mr. Polly.)
The first apprentices' dormitory was a long bleak room
with six beds, six chests of drawers and looking glasses
and a number of boxes of wood or tin ; it opened into a
still longer and bleaker room of eight beds, and this into
a third apartment with yellow grained paper and Ameri-
can cloth tables, which was the dining-room by day and
the men's sitting- and smoking-room after nine. Here
Mr. Polly, who had been an only child, first tasted the joys
of social intercourse. At first there were attempts to bully
him on account of his refusal to consider face washing a
diurnal duty, but two fights with the apprentices next
above him, established a useful reputation for choler, and
the presence of girl apprentices in the shop somehow
raised his standard of cleanliness to a more acceptable
level. He didn't of course have very much to do with
the feminine staff in his department, but he spoke to them
casually as he traversed foreign parts of the Bazaar, or
got out of their way politely, or helped them to lift down
heavy boxes, and on such occasions he felt their scrutiny.
Except in the course of business or at meal times the
men and women of the establishment had very little op-
portunity of meeting; the men were in their rooms and
i8 THE HISTORY. OF MR. POLLY,
the girls in theirs. Yet these feminine creatures, at once
so near and so remote, affected him profoundly. He
would watch them going to and fro, and marvel secretly
at the beauty of their hair or the roundness of their
necks or the warm softness of their cheeks or the delicacy
of their hands. He would fall into passions for them at
dinner time, and try and show devotions by his manner
of passing the bread and margarine at tea. There was a
very fair-haired, fair-skinned apprentice in the adjacent
haberdashery to whom he said " good-morning " every
morning, and for a period it seemed to him the most
significant event in his day. When she said, " I do hope
it will be fine to-morrow," he felt it marked an epoch.
He had had no sisters, and was innately disposed to wor-
ship womenkind. But he did not betray as much to
Platt and Parsons.
To Platt and Parsons he affected an attitude of sea-
soned depravity towards womankind. Platt and Parsons
were his contemporary apprentices in departments of the
drapery shop, and the three were drawn together into a
close friendship by the fact that all their names began
with P. They decided they were the Three Ps, and went
about together of an evening with the bearing of des-
perate dogs. Sometimes, when they had money, they
went into public houses and had drinks. Then they
would become more desperate than ever, and walk along
the pavement under the gas lamps arm in arm singing.
Platt had a good tenor voice, and had been in a church
choir, and so he led the singing; Parsons had a service-
BEGINNINGS, AND THE BAZAAR 19
able bellow, which roared and faded and roared again
very wonderfully ; Mr. Polly's share was an extraordinary
lowing noise, a sort of flat recitative which he called
" singing seconds." They would have sung catches if
they had known how to do it, but as it was they sang
melancholy music hall songs about dying soldiers and the
old folks far away.
They would sometimes go into the quieter residential
quarters of Port Burdock, where policemen and other ob-
stacles were infrequent, and really let their voices soar
like hawks and feel very happy. The dogs of the district
would be stirred to hopeless emulation, and would keep
it up for long after the Three Ps had been swallowed up
by the night. One jealous brute of an Irish terrier made
a gallant attempt to bite Parsons, but was beaten by num-
bers and solidarity.
The three Ps took the utmost interest in each other
and found no other company so good. They talked
about everything in the world, and would go on talking
in their dormitory after the gas was out until the other
men were reduced to throwing boots ; they skulked from
their departments in the slack hours of the afternoon to
gossip in the packing-room of the warehouse; on Sun-
days and Bank holidays they went for long walks to-
Platt was white- faced and dark, and disposed to under-
tones and mystery and a curiosity about society and the
demi-monde. He kept himself au courant by reading a
penny paper of infinite suggestion called Modern So-
20 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
ciety. Parsons was of an ampler build, already promising
fatness, with curly hair and a lot of rolling, rollicking,
curly features, and a large blob-shaped nose. He had a
great memory and a real interest in literature. He
knew great portions of Shakespeare and Milton by heart,
and would recite them at the slightest provocation. He
read everything he could get hold of, and if he liked it
he read it aloud. It did not matter who else liked it. At
first Mr. Polly was disposed to be suspicious of this
literature, but was carried away by Parsons' enthusiasm.
The three Ps went to a performance of " Romeo and
Juliet " at the Port Burdock Theatre Royal, and hung
over the gallery fascinated. After that they made a sort
of password of : " Do you bite your thumbs at Us,
To which the countersign was : " We bite our
For weeks the glory of Shakespeare's Verona lit Mr.
Polly's life. He walked as though he carried a sword at
his side, and swung a mantle from his shoulders. He
.went through the grimy streets of Port Burdock with
his eye on the first floor windows looking for balconies.
A ladder in the yard flooded his mind with romantic
ideas. Then Parsons discovered an Italian writer, whose
name Mr. Polly rendered as " Bocashieu," and after
some excursions into that author's remains the talk of
Parsons became infested with the word "amours," and
Mr. Polly would stand in front of his hosiery fixtures
trifling with paper and string and thinking of perennial
BEGINNINGS, 'AND THE BAZAAR 21
picnics under dark olive trees in the everlasting sunshine
And about that time it was that all three Ps adopted
turn-down collars and large, loose, artistic silk ties, which
they tied very much on one side and wore with an air of
defiance. And a certain swashbuckling carriage.
And then came the glorious revelation of that great
Frenchman whom Mr. Polly called " Rabooloose." The
three Ps thought the birth feast of Gargantua the most
glorious piece of writing in the world, and I am not
certain they were wrong, and on wet Sunday evenings
when there was danger of hymn singing they would get
Parsons to read it aloud.
Towards the several members of the Y. M. C. A. who
shared the dormitory, the three Ps always maintained a
sarcastic and defiant attitude.
" We got a perfect right to do what we like in our
corner," Platt maintained. "You do what you like in
"But the language!" objected Morrison, the white-
faced, earnest-eyed improver, who was leading a pro-
foundly religious life under great difficulties.
" Language, man ! " roared Parsons, " why, it's
LITERATURE ! "
" Sunday isn't the time for Literature."
" It's the only time we've got. And besides "
The horrors of religious controversy would begin. . . .
Mr. Polly stuck loyally to the Three Ps, but in the
secret places of his heart he was torn. A fire of convic-
22 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
tion burnt in Morrison's eyes and spoke in his urgent
persuasive voice; he lived the better life manifestly,
chaste in word and deed, industrious, studiously kindly.
When the junior apprentice had sore feet and home-
sickness Morrison washed the feet and comforted the
heart, and he helped other men to get through with their
work when he might have gone early, a superhuman
thing to do. Polly was secretly a little afraid to be left
alone with this man and the power of the spirit that was
in him. He felt watched.
Platt, also struggling with things his mind could
not contrive to reconcile, said "that confounded hypo-
" He's no hypocrite," said Parsons, " he's no hypocrite,
O' Man. But he's got no blessed Joy de Vive; that's
what's wrong with him. Let's go down to the Harbour
Arms and see some of those blessed old captains getting
" Short of sugar, O' Man," said Mr. Polly, slapping
his trowser pocket.
" Oh, carm on," said Parsons. " Always do it on tup-
pence for a bitter."
" Lemme get my pipe on," said Platt, who had re-
cently taken to smoking with great ferocity. " Then
I'm with you."
Pause and struggle.
" Don't rarn it down, O' Man," said Parsons, watch-
ing with knitted brows. " Don't ram it down. Give it
Air. Seen my stick, O' Man? Right O."
BEGINNINGS, AND THE BAZAAR 23
And leaning on his cane he composed himself in an at-
titude of sympathetic patience towards Platt's incendiary
Jolly days of companionship they were for the incipient
bankrupt on the stile to look back upon.
The interminable working hours of the Bazaar had
long since faded from his memory except for one or
two conspicuous rows and one or two larks but the rare
Sundays and holidays shone out like diamonds among
pebbles. They shone with the mellow splendour of even-
ing skies reflected in calm water, and athwart them all
went old Parsons bellowing an interpretation of life, ges-
ticulating, appreciating and making appreciate, expound-
ing books, talking of that mystery of his, the " Joy de
There were some particularly splendid walks on Bank
holidays. The three Ps would start on Sunday morning
early and find a room in some modest inn and talk them-
selves asleep, and return singing through the night, or
having an " argy bargy " about the stars, on Monday
evening. They would come over the hills out of the
pleasant English country-side in which they had wan-
dered, and see Port Burdock spread out below, a net-
work of interlacing street lamps and shifting tram lights
against the black, beacon-gemmed immensity of the har-
" Back to the collar, O' Man," Parsons would say.
24 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
There is no satisfactory plural to O' Man, so he always
used it in the singular.
" Don't mention it," said Platt
And once they got a boat for the whole summer day,
and rowed up past the moored ironclads and the black
old hulks and the various shipping of the harbour, past a
white troopship and past the trim front and the ships and
interesting vistas of the dockyard to the shallow chan-
nels and rocky weedy wildernesses of the upper harbour.
And Parsons and Mr. Polly had a great dispute and quar-
rel that day as to how far a big gun could shoot.
The country over the hills behind Port Burdock is all
that an old-fashioned, scarcely disturbed English country-
side should be. In those days the bicycle was still rare
and costly and the motor car had yet to come and stir up
rural serenities. The three P's would take footpaths
haphazard across fields, and plunge into unknown wind-
ing lanes between high hedges of honeysuckle and
dogrose. Greatly daring, they would follow green bridle
paths through primrose studded undergrowths, or wander
waist deep in the bracken of beech woods. About twenty
miles from Port Burdock there came a region of hop
gardens and hoast crowned farms, and further on, to be
reached only by cheap tickets at Bank Holiday times, was
a sterile ridge of very clean roads and red sand pits and
pines and gorse and heather. The three Ps could not
afford to buy bicycles and they found boots the greatest
item of their skimpy -expenditure. They threw appear-
ances to the winds at last and got ready-made working-
BEGINNINGS, AND THE BAZAAR 25
men's hob-nails. There was much discussion and strong
feeling over this step in the dormitory.
There is no country-side like the English country-side
for those who have learnt to love it; its firm yet gentle
lines of hill and dale, its ordered confusion of features,
its deer parks and downland, its castles and stately
houses, its hamlets and old churches, its farms and ricks
and great barns and ancient trees, its pools and ponds
and shining threads of rivers; its flower-starred hedge-
rows, its orchards and woodland patches, its village
greens and kindly inns. Other country-sides have their
pleasant aspects, but none such variety, none that shine so
steadfastly throughout the year. Picardy is pink and
white and pleasant in the blossom time, Burgundy goes
on with its sunshine and wide hillsides and cramped vine-
yards, a beautiful tune repeated and repeated, Italy gives
salitas and wayside chapels and chestnuts and olive
orchards, the Ardennes has its woods and gorges
Touraine and the Rhineland, the wide Campagna with its
distant Apennines, and the neat prosperities and moun-
tain backgrounds of South Germany, all clamour their
especial merits at one's memory. And there are the hills
and fields of Virginia, like an England grown very big and
slovenly, the woods and big river sweeps of Pennsylvania,
the trim New England landscape, a little bleak and rather
fine like the New England mind, and the wide rough
country roads and hills and woodland of New York
State. But none of these change scene and character in
three miles of walking, nor have so mellow a sunlight
26 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
nor so diversified a cloudland, nor confess the perpetual
refreshment of the strong soft winds that blow from off
the sea as our Mother England does.
It was good for the three Ps to walk through such
a land and forget for a time that indeed they had no foot-
ing in it all, that they were doomed to toil behind
counters in such places as Port Burdock for the better
part of their lives. They would forget the customers
and shopwalkers and department buyers and everything,
and become just happy wanderers in a world of pleasant
breezes and song birds and shady trees.
The arrival at the inn was a great affair. No one,
they were convinced, would take them for drapers, and
there might be a pretty serving girl or a jolly old lady s
or what Parsons called a " bit of character " drinking in
There would always be weighty enquiries as to what
they could have, and it would work out always at
cold beef and pickles, or fried ham and eggs and shandy-
gaff, two pints of beer and two bottles of ginger beer
foaming in a huge round-bellied jug.
The glorious moment of standing lordly in the inn
doorway, and staring out at the world, the swinging sign,
the geese upon the green, the duckpond, a waiting
waggon, the church tower, a sleepy cat, the blue heavens,
with the sizzle of the frying audible behind one! The
keen smell of the bacon! The trotting of feet bearing
the repast; the click and clatter as the tableware is
finally arranged! A clean white cloth!
BEGINNINGS, AND THE BAZAAR 27
" Ready, Sir ! " or " Ready, Gentlemen." Better hear-
ing that than " Forward Polly ! look sharp ! "
The going in ! The sitting down ! The falling to !
"Bread, O' Man?"
" Right O ! Don't bag all the crust, O' Man."
Once a simple mannered girl in a pink print dress
stayed and talked with them as they ate ; led by the gal-
lant Parsons they professed to be all desperately in love
with her, and courted her to say which she preferred of
them, it was so manifest she did prefer one and so impos-
sible to say which it was held her there, until a dis-
tant maternal voice called her away. Afterwards as they
left the inn she waylaid them at the orchard corner and
gave them, a little shyly, three keen yellow-green ap-
ples and wished them to come again some day, and
vanished, and reappeared looking after them as they
turned the corner waving a white handkerchief. All
the rest of that day they disputed over the signs of her
favour, and the next Sunday they went there again.
But she had vanished, and a mother of forbidding
aspect afforded no explanations.
If Platt and Parsons and Mr. Polly live to be a hun-
dred, they will none of them forget that girl as she stood
with a pink flush upon her, faintly smiling and yet
earnest, parting the branches of the hedgerows and
reaching down apple in hand. Which of them was it,
had caught her spirit to attend to them? . . .
And once they went along the coast, following it as
closely as possible, and so came at last to Foxbourne, that
28 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
easternmost suburb of Biayling and Hampsted-on-the-
Foxbourne seemed a very jolly little place to Mr. Polly
that afternoon. It has a clean sandy beach instead of
the mud and pebbles and coaly defilements of Port Bur-
dock, a row of six bathing machines, and a shelter on
the parade in which the three Ps sat after a satisfying
but rather expensive lunch that had included celery.
Rows of verandahed villas proffered apartments, they
had feasted in an hotel with a porch painted white and
gay with geraniums above, and the High Street with the
old church at the head had been full of an agreeable af-
" Nice little place for business," said Platt sagely from
behind his big pipe.
It stuck in Mr. Polly's memory.
Mr. Polly was not so picturesque a youth as Parsons.
He lacked richness in his voice, and went about in those
days with his hands in his pockets looking quietly specu-
He specialised in slang and the disuse of English, and
he played the role of an appreciative stimulant to Par-
sons. Words attracted him curiously, words rich in sug-
gestion, and he loved a novel and striking phrase. His
school training had given him little or no mastery of the
mysterious pronunciation of English and no confidence in
BEGINNINGS, AND THE BAZAAR 29
himself. His schoolmaster indeed had been both unsound
and variable. New words had terror and fascination
for him; he did not acquire them, he could not avoid
them, and so he plunged into them. His only rule was
not to be misled by the spelling. That was no guide
anyhow. He avoided every recognised phrase in the
language and mispronounced everything in order that
he shouldn't be suspected of ignorance, but whim.
" Sesquippledan," he would say. " Sesquippledan ver-
"Eh?" said Platt.
" Eloquent Rapsodooce."
"Where? "asked Platt.
" In the warehouse, O' Man. All among the tablecloths
and blankets. Carlyle. He's reading aloud. Doing the
High Froth. Spuming! Windmilling! Waw, waw!
It's a sight worth seeing. He'll bark his blessed knuckles
one of these days on the fixtures, O' Man."
He held an imaginary book in one hand and waved an
eloquent gesture. " So too shall every Hero inasmuch
as notwithstanding for evermore come back to Reality,"
he parodied the enthusiastic Parsons, " so that in fashion
and thereby, upon things and not under things articulari-
ously He stands."
" I should laugh if the Governor dropped on him,"
said Platt. " He'd never hear him coming."
" The O' Man's drunk with it fair drunk," said Polly.
"I never did. It's worse than when he got on to Ra-
CHAPTER THE SECOND
THE DISMISSAL, OF PARSONS
SUDDENLY Parsons got himself dismissed.
He got himself dismissed under circumstances
of peculiar violence, that left a deep impression
on Mr. Polly's mind. He wondered about it for years
afterwards, trying to get the rights of the case.
Parsons apprenticehsip was over; he had reached the
status of an Improver, and he dressed the window of the
Manchester department. By all the standards available
he dressed it very well. By his own standards he dressed
it wonderfully. " Well, O' Man/' he used to say,
" there's one thing about my position here, I can dress
And when trouble was under discussion he would hold
that " little Fluffums " which was the apprentices'
name for Mr. Garvace, the senior partner and managing
director of the Bazaar would think twice before he got
rid of the only man in the place who could make a win-
dowful of Manchester goods tell.
Then like many a fellow artist he fell a prey to
" The art of window dressing is in its infancy, O' Man
34 THE HISTORY. OF MR. POLLY
in its blooming Infancy. All balance and stiffness like
a blessed Egyptian picture. No Joy in it, no blooming
Joy! Conventional. A shop window ought to get hold
of people, grip 'em as they go along. It stands to reason.
His voice would sink to a kind of quiet bellow. " Do
they grip ? "
Then after a pause, a savage roar; " Naw! "
" He's got a Heavy on," said Mr. Polly. " Go it, O'
Man ; let's have some more of it."
" Look at old Morrison's dress-stuff windows ! Tidy,
tasteful, correct, I grant you, but Bleak ! " He let out
the word reinforced to a shout ; " Bleak ! "
"Bleak!" echoed Mr. Polly.
" Just pieces of stuff in rows, rows of tidy little puffs,
perhaps one bit just unrolled, quiet tickets."
" Might as well be in church, O' Man," said Mr. Polly.
" A window ought to be exciting," said Parsons ; " it
ought to make you say : E1-/0 / when you see it."
He paused, and Platt watched him over a snorting
" Rockcockyo," said Mr. Polly.
" We want a new school of window dressing," said
Parsons, regardless of the comment. " A New School !
The Port Burdock school. Day after to-morrow I change
the Fitzallan Street stuff. This time, it's going to be a
change. I mean to have a crowd or bust ! "
And as a matter of fact he did both.
His voice dropped to a note of self-reproach. " I've
THE DISMISSAL OF PARSONS 35
been timid, O' Man. I've been holding myself in. I
haven't done myself Justice. I've kept down the sim-
mering, seething, teeming ideas. . . . All that's over
" Over," gulped Polly.
" Over for good and all, O' Man."
Platt came to Polly, whd was sorting up collar boxes.
" O' Man's doing his Blooming Window."
" What he said."
He went on with his collar boxes with his eye on his
senior, Mansfield. Mansfield was presently called away
to the counting house, and instantly Polly shot out by
the street door, and made a rapid transit along the street
front past the Manchester window, and so into the
silkroom door. He could not linger long, but he gathered
joy, a swift and fearful joy, from his brief inspection of
Parsons' unconscious back. Parsons had his tail coat
off and was working with vigour ; his habit of pulling his
waistcoat straps to the utmost brought out all the agree-
able promise of corpulence in his youthful frame. He
was blowing excitedly and running his fingers through
his hair, and then moving with all the swift eagerness of
a man inspired. All about his feet and knees were scar-
let blankets, not folded, not formally unfolded, but the
36 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
only phrase is shied about. And a great bar sinister
of roller towelling stretched across the front of the win-
dow on which was a ticket, and the ticket said in bold
black letters: "LOOK!"
So soon as Mr. Polly got into the silk department and
met Platt he knew he had not lingered nearly long enough
outside. " Did you see the boards at the back ? " said
He hadn't. " The High Egrugious is fairly On," he
said, and dived down to return by devious subterranean
routes to the outfitting department.
Presently the street door opened and Platt, with an air
of intense devotion to business assumed - to cover his
adoption of that unusual route, came in and made for
the staircase down to the warehouse. He rolled up his
eyes at Polly. " Oh Lor!" he said and vanished.
Irresistible curiosity seized Polly. Should he go
through the shop to the Manchester department, or risk
a second transit outside?
He was impelled to make a dive at the street
" Where are you going?" asked Mansfield.
" Lill Dog," said Polly with an air of lucid explanations,
and left him to get any meaning he could from it.
1 Parsons was worth the subsequent trouble. Parsons
really was extremely rich. This time Polly stopped to
take it in.
Parsons had made a huge symmetrical pile of thick
white and red blankets twisted and rolled to accentuate
THE DISMISSAL OF PARSONS 37
their woolly richness, heaped up in a warm disorder, with
large window tickets inscribed in blazing red letters:
" Cosy Comfort at Cut Prices," and " Curl up and Cud-
dle below Cost." Regardless of the daylight he had
turned up the electric light on that side of the window to
reflect a warm glow upon the heap, and behind, in pur-
suit of contrasted bleakness, he was now hanging long
strips of grey silesia and chilly coloured linen dusterings.
It was wonderful, but
Mr. Polly decided that it was time he went in. He
found Platt in the silk department, apparently on the
verge of another plunge into the exterior world. " Cosy
Comfort at Cut Prices," said Polly. " Allittritions Artful
He did not dare go into the street for the third time,
and he was hovering feverishly near the window when
he saw the governor, Mr. Garvace, that is to say, the
managing director of the Bazaar, walking along the
pavement after his manner to assure himself all was well
with the establishment he guided.
Mr. Garvace was a short stout man, with that air of
modest pride that so often goes with corpulence, choleric
and decisive in manner, and with hands that looked like
bunches of fingers. He was red-haired and ruddy, and
after the custom of such complexions, hairs sprang from
the tip of his nose. When he wished to bring the power
of the human eye to bear upon an assistant, he pro-
jected his chest, knitted one brow and partially closed
the left eyelid.
38 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
An expression of speculative wonder overspread the
countenance of Mr. Polly. He felt he must see. Yes,
whatever happened he must see.
" Want to speak to Parsons, Sir," he said to Mr. Mans-
field, and deserted his post hastily, dashed through the
intervening departments and was in position behind a
pile of Bolton sheeting as the governor came in out of
" What on Earth do you think you are doing with that
window, Parsons? " began Mr. Garvace.
Only the legs of Parsons and the lower part of his
waistcoat and an intervening inch of shirt were visible.
He was standing inside the window on the steps, hanging
up the last strip of his background from the brass rail
along the ceiling. Within, the Manchester shop window:
was cut off by a partition rather like the partition of an
old-fashioned church pew from the general space of the
shop. There was a panelled barrier, that is to say, with
a little door like a pew door in it. Parsons' face appeared,
staring with round eyes at his employer.
Mr. Garvace had to repeat his question.
" Dressing it, Sir on new lines."
" Come out of it," said Mr. Garvace.
Parsons stared, and Mr. Garvace had to repeat his
Parsons, with a dazed expression, began to descend the
Mr. Garvace turned about. " Where's Morrison ?
Morrison ! "
THE DISMISSAL OF PARSONS 39
" Take this window over," said Mr. Garvace pointing
his bunch of fingers at Parsons. " Take all this muddle
out and dress it properly."
Morrison advanced and hesitated.
" I beg your pardon, Sir," said Parsons with an im-
mense politeness, " but this is my window."
" Take it all out," said Mr. Garvace, turning away.
Morrison advanced. Parsons shut the door with a
click that arrested Mr. Garvace.
" Come out of that window," he said. " You can't
dress it. If you want to play the fool with a win-
" This window's All Right," said the genius in window
dressing, and there was a little pause.
" Open the door and go right in," said Mr. Garvace to
" You leave that door alone, Morrison," said Parsons.
Polly was no longer even trying to hide behind the
stack of Bolton sheetings. He realised he was in the
presence of forces too stupendous to heed him.
" Get him out/' said Mr. Garvace.
Morrison seemed to be thinking out the ethics of his
position. The idea of loyalty to his employer prevailed
with him. He laid his hand on the door to open it;
Parsons tried to disengage his hand. Mr. Garvace joined
his effort to Morrison's. Then the heart of Polly leapt
and the world blazed up to wonder and splendour. Par-
sons disappeared behind the partition for a moment and
40 THE HISTORY, OF. MR. POLLY
reappeared instantly, gripping a thin cylinder of rolled
huckaback. With this he smote at Morrison's head.
Morrison's head ducked under the resounding impact,
but he clung on and so did Mr. Garvace. The door came
open, and then Mr. Garvace was staggering back, hand
to head; his autocratic, his sacred baldness, smitten.
Parsons was beyond all control a strangeness, a mar-
vel. Heaven knows how the artistic struggle had
strained that richly endowed temperament. " Say I can't
'dress a window, you thundering old Humbug," he said,
and hurled the huckaback at his master. He followed
this up by hurling first a blanket, then an armful of
silesia, then a window support out of the window into
the shop. It leapt into Polly's mind that Parsons hated
his own effort and was glad to demolish it. For a
crowded second Polly's mind was concentrated upon
Parsons, infuriated, active, like a figure of earthquake
with its coat off, shying things headlong.
Then he perceived the back of Mr. Garvace and heard
his gubernatorial voice crying to no one in particular
and everybody in general : " Get him out of the window.
'He's mad. He's dangerous. Get him out of the win-
Then a crimson blanket was for a moment over the
head of Mr. Garvace, and his voice, muffled for an in-
stant, broke out into unwonted expletive.
Then people had arrived from all parts of the Bazaar.
Luck, the ledger clerk, blundered against Polly and said,
" Help him ! " Somerville from the silks vaulted the
THE DISMISSAL OF PARSONS 41
counter, and seized a chair by the back. Polly lost his
head. He clawed at the Bolton sheeting before him,
and if he could have detached a piece he would certainly
have hit somebody with it. As it was he simply upset the
pile. It fell away from Polly, and he had an impression
of somebody squeaking as it went down. It was the sort
of impression one disregards. The collapse of the pile
of goods just sufficed to end his subconscious efforts to
get something to hit somebody with, and his whole at-
tention focussed itself upon the struggle in the window.
For a splendid instant Parsons towered up over the active
backs that clustered about the shop window door, an
active whirl of gesture, tearing things down and throw-
ing them, and then he went under. There was an in-
stant's furious struggle, a crash, a second crash and the
crack of broken plate glass. Then a stillness and heavy
Parsons was overpowered. . . .
Polly, stepping over scattered pieces of Bolton sheet-
ing, saw his transfigured friend with a dark cut, that was
not at present bleeding, on the forehead, one arm held by
Somerville and the other by Morrison.
" You you you you annoyed me," said Parsons,
sobbing for breath.
There are events that detach themselves from the gen-
eral stream of occurrences and seem to partake of the
nature of revelations. Such was this Parsons affair. It
42 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
began by seeming grotesque; it ended disconcertingly.
The fabric of Mr. Polly's daily life was torn, and beneath
it he discovered depths and terrors.
Life was not altogether a lark.
The calling in of a policeman seemed at the moment a
pantomime touch. But when it became manifest that Mr.
Garvace was in a fury of vindictiveness, the affair took
on a different complexion. The way in which the police-
man made a note of everything and aspirated nothing
impressed the sensitive mind of Polly profoundly. Polly
presently found himself straightening up ties to the re-
frain of " 'E then 'It you on the 'Ed and "
In the dormitory that night Parsons had become heroic.
He sat on the edge of ttye bed with his head bandaged,
packing very slowly and insisting over and again : " He
ought to have left my window alone, O' Man. He didn't
ought to have touched my window."
Polly was to go to the police court in the morning as
a witness. The terror of that ordeal almost over-
shadowed the tragic fact that Parsons was not only sum-
moned for assault, but " swapped," and packing his box.
Polly knew himself well enough to know he would make
a bad witness. He felt sure of one fact only, namely, that
" 'E then 'It 'Im on the 'Ed and " All the rest danced
about in his mind now, and how it would dance about on
the morrow Heaven only knew. Would there be a cross-
examination? Is it perjoocery to make a slip? People
did sometimes per juice themselves. Serious offence.
THE DISMISSAL OF PARSONS 43
Platt was doing his best to help Parsons, and inciting
public opinion against Morrison. But Parsons would
not hear of anything against Morrison. " He was all
right, O' Man according to his lights," said Parsons.
" It isn't him I complain of."
He speculated on the morrow. " I shall 'ave to pay a
fine," he said. " No good trying to get out of it. It's
true I hit him. I hit him " he paused and seemed to be
seeking an exquisite accuracy. His voice sank to a con-
fidential note ; " On the head about here."
He answered the suggestion of a bright junior appren-
tice in a corner of the dormitory. " What's the Good
of a Cross summons ? " he replied ; " with old Corks, the
chemist, and Mottishead, the house agent, and all that
lot on the Bench? Humble Pie, that's my meal to-mor-
row, O' Man. Humble Pie."
Packing went on for a time.
" But Lord ! what a Life it is ! " said Parsons, giving
his deep notes scope. " Ten-thirty-five a man trying to
do his Duty, mistaken perhaps, but trying his best ; ten-
forty Ruined ! Ruined ! " He lifted his voice to a
shout. " Ruined ! " and dropped it to " Like an earth-
" Heated altaclation," said Polly.
" Like a blooming earthquake ! " said Parsons, with
the notes of a rising wind.
He meditated gloomily upon his future and a colder
chill invaded Polly's mind. " Likely to get another crib,
44 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
ain't I with assaulted the guvnor on my reference. I
suppose, though, he won't give me refs. Hard enough to
get a crib at the best of times," said Parsons.
" You ought to go round with a show, O'Man," said
Things were not so dreadful in the police court as
Mr. Polly had expected. He was given a seat with other
witnesses against the wall of the court, and after an in-
teresting larceny case Parsons appeared and stood, not in
the dock, but at the table. By that time Mr. Polly's legs,
which had been tucked up at first under his chair out of
respect to the court, were extended straight before him
and his hands were in his trouser pockets. He was in-
venting names for the four magistrates on the bench,
and had got to " the Grave and Reverend Signer with
the palatial Boko," when his thoughts were recalled to
gravity by the sound of his name. He rose with alacrity
and was fielded by an expert policeman from a brisk
attempt to get into the vacant dock. The clerk
to the Justices repeated the oath with incredible ra-
" Right O," said Mr. Polly, but quite respectfully, and
kissed the book.
His evidence was simple and quite audible after one
warning from the superintendent of police to " speak
up." He tried to put in a good word for Parsons by
saying he was " naturally of a choleraic disposition," but
the start and the slow grin of enjoyment upon the face
THE DISMISSAL OF PARSONS 45
of the grave and Reverend Signor with the palatial
Boko suggested that the word was not so good as he
had thought it. The rest of the bench was frankly puz-
zled and there were hasty consultations.
" You mean 'E 'As a 'Ot temper," said the presiding
" I mean 'E 'As a 'Ot temper," replied Polly, magically
incapable of aspirates for the moment.
"You don't mean 'E ketches cholera."
" I mean he's easily put out."
" Then why can't you say so ? " said the presiding
Parsons was bound over.
He came for his luggage while every one was in the
shop, and Garvace would not let him invade the business
to say good-by. When Mr. Polly went upstairs for
margarine and bread and tea, he slipped on into the
dormitory at once to see what was happening further in
the Parsons case. But Parsons had vanished. There
was no Parsons, no trace of Parsons. His cubicle was
swept and garnished. For the first time in his life Polly
had a sense of irreparable loss.
A minute or so after Platt dashed in.
" Ugh ! " he said, and then discovered Polly. Polly
was leaning out of the window and did not look around.
Platt went up to him.
" He's gone already," said Platt. " Might have stopped
to say good-by to a chap."
46 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
There was a little pause before Polly replied. He
thrust his finger into his mouth and gulped.
" Bit on that beastly tooth of mine," he said, still not
looking at Platt. " It's made my eyes water, something
chronic. Any one might think I'd been doing a blooming
Pipe, by the look of me."
CHAPTER THE THIRD
PORT BURDOCK was never the same place for
Mr. Polly after Parsons had left it. There were
no chest notes in his occasional letters, and little of
the " Joy de Vive " got through by them. Parsons had
gone, he said, to London, and found a place as warehouse-
man in a cheap outfitting shop near St. Paul's Church-
yard, where references were not required. It became ap-
parent as time passed that new interests were absorbing
him. He wrote of socialism and the rights of man, things
that had no appeal for Mr. Polly. He felt strangers had
got hold of his Parsons, were at work upon him, making
him into someone else, something less picturesque. . . ,
Port Burdock became a dreariness full of faded memories
of Parsons and work a bore. Platt revealed himself alone
as a tiresome companion, obsessed by romantic ideas
about intrigues and vices and " society women."
Mr. Polly's depression manifested itself in a general
slackness. A certain impatience in the manner of Mr.
Garvace presently got upon his nerves. Relations were
becoming strained. He asked for a rise of salary to
50 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
test his position, and gave notice to leave when it was
It took him two months to place himself in another
situation, and during that time he had quite a disagree-
able amount of loneliness, disappointment, anxiety and
He went at first to stay with a married cousin who had
a house at Easewood. His widowed father had recently
given up the music and bicycle shop (with the post of
organist at the parish church) that had sustained his
home, and was living upon a small annuity as a guest
with this cousin, and growing a little tiresome on account
of some mysterious internal discomfort that the local
practitioner diagnosed as imagination. He had aged
with mysterious rapidity and become excessively irri-
table, but the cousin's wife was a born manager, and
contrived to get along with him. Our Mr. Polly's status
was that of a guest pure and simple, but after a fortnight
of congested hospitality in which he wrote nearly a hun-
dred letters beginning:
Referring to your advt. in the " Christian World " for
an improver in Gents' outfitting I beg to submit myself
for the situation. Have had six years' experience. . . .
and upset a bottle of ink over a toilet cover and the bed-
room carpet, his cousin took him for a walk and pointed
out the superior advantages of apartments in London
from which to swoop upon the briefly yawning vacancy.
"Helpful," said Mr. Polly; "very helpful, O' Man in-
deed. I might have gone on there for weeks," and
He got a room in an institution that was partly a
benevolent hostel for men in his circumstances and partly
a high minded but forbidding coffee house and a centre
for pleasant Sunday afternoons. Mr. Polly spent a
critical but pleasant Sunday afternoon in a back seat,
inventing such phrases as :
" Soulful Owner of the Exorbiant Largenial Devel-
opment." An Adam's Apple being in question.
" Earnest Joy."
" Exultant, Urgent Loogoobuosity."
A manly young curate, marking and misunderstanding
his preoccupied face and moving lips, came and sat by
him and entered into conversation with the idea of mak-
ing him feel more at home. The conversation was awk-
ward and disconnected for a minute or so, and then
suddenly a memory of the Port Burdock Bazaar occurred
to Mr. Polly, and with a baffling whisper of " Lill' dog,"
and a reassuring nod, he rose up and escaped, to wander
out relieved and observant into the varied London
He found the collection of men he found waiting about
in wholesale establishments in Wood Street and St. Paul's
Churchyard (where they interview the buyers who have
come up from the country) interesting and stimulating,
but far too strongly charged with the suggestion of his
own fate to be really joyful. There were men in all de-
52 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
grees between confidence and distress, and in every stage
between extravagant smartness and the last stages of
decay. There were sunny young men full of an abound-
ing and elbowing energy, before whom the soul of Polly
sank in hate and dismay. " Smart Juniors," said Polly to
himself, " full of Smart Juniosity. The Shoveacious
Cult." There were hungry looking individuals of thirty-
five or so that he decided must be " Proletelerians "
he had often wanted to find someone who fitted that at-
tractive word. Middle-aged men, " too Old at Forty,"
discoursed in the waiting-rooms on the outlook in the
trade ; it had never been so bad, they said, while Mr. Polly
wondered if " De-juiced " was a permissible epithet.
There were men with an overweening sense of their im-
portance, manifestly annoyed and angry to find them-
selves still disengaged, and inclined to suspect a plot, and
men so faint-hearted one was terrified to imagine their
behaviour when it came to an interview. There was a
fresh-faced young man with an unintelligent face who
seemed to think himself equipped against the world be-
yond all misadventure by a collar of exceptional height,
and another who introduced a note of gaiety by wearing
a flannel shirt and a check suit of remark'able virulence.
Every day Mr. Polly looked round to mark how many
of the familiar faces had gone, and the deepening
anxiety (reflecting his own) on the faces that remained,
and every day some new type joined the drifting shoal.
He realised how small a chance his poor letter from
Easewood ran against this hungry cluster of com-
petitors at the fountain head.
At the back of Mr. Polly's mind while he made his ob-
servations was a disagreeable flavour of dentist's par-
lour. At any moment his name might be shouted, and
he might have to haul himself into the presence of some
fresh specimen of employer, and to repeat once more his
passionate protestation of interest in the business, his
possession of a capacity for zeal zeal on behalf of any-
one who would pay him a yearly salary of twenty-six
pounds a year.
The prospective employer would unfold his ideals of
the employee. " I want a smart, willing young man,
thoroughly willing who won't object to take trouble. I
don't want a slacker, the sort of fellow who has to be
pushed up to his work and held there. I've got no use
At the back of Mr. Polly's mind, and quite beyond his
control, the insubordinate phrasemaker would be prof-
fering such combinations as " Chubby Chops," or
" Chubby Charmer," as suitable for the gentleman, very
much as a hat salesman proffers hats.
" I don't think you'd find much slackness about me,
sir," said Mr. Polly brightly, trying to disregard his
" I want a young man who means getting on."
" Exactly, sir. Excelsior."
"I beg your pardon?"
54 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
" I said excelsior, sir. It's a sort of motto of mine.
From Longfellow. Would you want me to serve
through ? "
The chubby gentleman explained and reverted to his
ideals, with a faint air of suspicion. " Do you mean get-
ting on ? " he asked.
" I hope 30, sir," said Mr. Polly.
" Get on or get out, eh ? "
Mr. Polly made a rapturous noise, nodded appreciation,
and said indistinctly : " Quite my style."
" Some of my people have been with me twenty years,"
said the employer. " My Manchester buyer came to me
as a boy of twelve. You're a Christian? "
" Church of England," said Mr. Polly.
" H'm," said the employer a little checked. " For good
all round business work I should have preferred a Bap-
He studied Mr. Polly's tie, which was severely neat
and businesslike, as became an aspiring outfitter. Mr.
Polly's conception of his own pose and expression was
rendered by that uncontrollable phrasemonger at the
back as " Obsequies Deference."
" I am inclined," said the prospective employer in a
conclusive manner, " to look up your reference."
Mr. Polly stood up abruptly.
" Thank you," said the employer and dismissed
" Chump chops ! How about chump chops ? " said the
phrasemonger with an air of inspiration.
" I hope then to hear from you, sir," said Mr. Polly
in his best salesman manner.
"If everything is satisfactory," said the prospective
A man whose brain devotes its hinterland to making
odd phrases and nicknames out of ill-conceived words,
whose conception of life is a lump of auriferous rock to
which all the value is given by rare veins of unbusiness-
like joy, who reads Boccaccio and Rabelais and Shakes-
peare with gusto, and uses " Stertoraneous Shover " and
" Smart Junior" as terms of bitterest opprobium, is not
likely to make a great success under modern business
conditions. Mr. Polly dreamt always of picturesque and
mellow things, and had an instinctive hatred of the
strenuous life. He would have resisted the spell of ex-
President Roosevelt, or General Baden Powell, or Mr.
Peter Keary, or the late Dr. Samuel Smiles, quite easily ;
and he loved Falstaff and Hudibras and coarse laughter,
and the old England of Washington Irving and the mem-
ory of Charles the Second's courtly days. His progress
was necessarily slow. He did not get rises ; he lost situa-
tions; there was something in his eye employers did not
like ; he would have lost his places oftener if he had not
been at times an exceptionally brilliant salesman, rather
carefully neat, and a slow but very fair window-dresser.
He went from situation to situation, he invented a
great wealth of nicknames, he conceived enmities and
56 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
made friends but none so richly satisfying as Parsons.
He was frequently but mildly and discursively in love,
and sometimes he thought of that girl who had given
him a yellow-green apple. He had an idea, amounting
to a flattering certainty, whose youthful freshness it was
had stirred her to self-forgetfulness. And sometimes he
thought of Foxbourne sleeping prosperously in the sun.
And he began to have moods of discomfort and lassitude
and ill-temper due to the beginnings of indigestion.
Various forces and suggestions came into his life and
swayed him for longer and shorter periods.
He went to Canterbury and came under the influence
of Gothic architecture. There was a blood affinity be-
tween Mr. Polly and the Gothic; in the middle ages he
would no doubt have sat upon a scaffolding and carved
out penetrating and none too flattering portraits of
church dignitaries upon the capitals, and when he
strolled, with his hands behind his back, along the
cloisters behind the cathedral, and looked at the rich
grass plot in the centre, he had the strangest sense of
being at home far more than he had ever been at home
before. " Portly capons," he used to murmur to himself,
under the impression that he was naming a characteristic
type of medieval churchman.
He liked to sit in the nave during the service, and look
through the great gates at the candles and choristers, and
listen to the organ-sustained voices, but the transepts he
never penetrated because of the charge for admission.
The music and the long vista of the fretted roof filled
him with a vague and mystical happiness that he had no
words, even mispronounceable words, to express. But
some of the smug monuments in the aisles got a wreath
of epithets ; " Metrorious urnfuls," " funererial claims,"
" dejected angelosity/' for example. He wandered about
the precincts and speculated about the people who lived
in the ripe and cosy houses of grey stone that cluster
there so comfortably. Through green doors in high
stone walls he caught glimpses of level lawns and blazing
flower beds ; mullioned windows revealed shaded reading
lamps and disciplined shelves of brown bound books.
Now and then a dignitary in gaiters would pass him,
" Portly capon," or a drift of white-robed choir boys
cross a distant arcade and vanish in a doorway, or the
pink and cream of some girlish dress flit like a butterfly
across the cool still spaces of the place. Particularly he
responded to the ruined arches of the Benedictine's In-
firmary and the view of Bell Harry tower from the school
buildings. He was stirred to read the Canterbury Tales,
but he could not get on with Chaucer's old-fashioned
English; it fatigued his attention, and he would have
given all the story telling very readily for a few adven-
tures on the road. He wanted these nice people to live
more and yarn less. He liked the Wife of Bath very
much. He would have liked to have known that woman.
At Canterbury, too, he first to his knowledge saw
His shop did a good class trade in Westgate Street,
and he would see them go by on the way to stare at
58 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
Chaucer's " Chequers," and then turn down Mercery
Lane to Prior Goldstone's gate. It impressed him that
they were always in a kind of quiet hurry, and very de-
termined and methodical people, much more so than
any English he knew.
" Cultured Rapacicity," he tried.
" Vorocious Return to the Heritage."
He would expound them incidentally to his attendant
apprentices. He had overheard a little lady putting her
view to a friend near the Christchurch gate. The ac-
cent and intonation had hung in his memory, and he
would reproduce them more or less accurately. " Now
does this Marlowe monument really and truly matter? "
he had heard the little lady enquire. " We've no time
for side shows and second rate stunts, Mamie. We want
just the Big Simple Things of the place, just the Broad
Elemental Canterbury praposition. What is it saying
to us? I want to get right hold of that, and then have
tea in the very room that Chaucer did, and hustle to get
that four-eighteen train back to London."
He would go over these precious phrases, finding them
full of an indescribable flavour. "Just the Broad Ele-
mental Canterbury praposition," he would repeat. . . .
He would try to imagine Parsons confronted with
Americans. For his own part he knew himself to be
altogether inadequate. . . .
Canterbury was the most congenial situation Mr. Polly
ever found during these wander years, albeit a very
desert so far as companionship went.
It was after Canterbury that the universe became really
disagreeable to Mr. Polly. It was brought home to him,
not so much vividly as with a harsh and ungainly in-
sistence, that he was a failure in his trade. It was not the
trade he ought to have chosen, though what trade he
ought to have chosen was by no means clear.
He made great but irregular efforts and produced a
forced smartness that, like a cheap dye, refused to stand
sunshine. He acquired a sort of parsimony also, in
which acquisition he was helped by one or two phases of
absolute impecuniosity. But he was hopeless in com-
petition against the naturally gifted, the born hustlers,
the young men who meant to get on.
He left the Canterbury place very regretfully. He
and another commercial gentleman took a boat one Sun-
day afternoon at Sturry-on-the-Stour, when the wind
was in the west, and sailed it very happily eastward for
an hour. They had never sailed a boat before and it
seemed simple and wonderful. When they turned they
found the river too narrow for tacking and the tide run-
ning out like a sluice. They battled back to Sturry in
the course of six hours (at a shilling the first hour and
sixpence for each hour afterwards) rowing a mile in an
hour and a half or so, until the turn of the tide came to
help them, and then they had a night walk to Canter-
bury, and found themselves remorselessly locked
60 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
The Canterbury employer was an amiable, religious-
spirited man and he would probably not have dismissed
Mr. Polly if that unfortunate tendency to phrase things
had not shocked him. " A Tide's a Tide, Sir," said Mr.
Polly, feeling that things were not so bad. " I've no
lune-attic power to alter that."
It proved impossible to explain to the Canterbury em-
ployer that this was not a highly disrespectful and blas-
" And besides, what good are you to me this morning,
do you think?" said the Canterbury employer, "with
your arms pulled out of their sockets ? "
So Mr. Polly resumed his observations in the Wood
Street warehouses once more, and had some dismal times.
The shoal of fish waiting for the crumbs of employment
seemed larger than ever.
He took counsel with himself. Should he " chuck "
the outfitting? It wasn't any good for him now, and
presently when he was older and his youthful smartness
had passed into the dulness of middle age it would be
worse. What else could he do?
He could think of nothing. He went one night to a
music hall and developed a vague idea of a comic per-
formance; the comic men seemed violent rowdies and
not at all funny ; but when he thought of the great pit of
the audience yawning before him he realised that his was
an altogether too delicate talent for such a use. He was
impressed by the charm of selling vegetables by auction in
one of those open shops near London Bridge, but ad-
mitted upon reflection his general want of technical
knowledge. He made some enquiries about emigration,
but none of the colonies were in want of shop assistants
without capital. He kept up his attendance in Wood
He subdued his ideal of salary by the sum of five
pounds a year, and was taken at that into a driving es-
tablishment in Clapham, which dealt chiefly in ready-
made suits, fed its assistants in an underground dining-
room and kept them until twelve on Saturdays. He
found it hard to be cheerful there. His fits of indiges-
tion became worse, and he began to lie awake at night
and think. Sunshine and laughter seemed things lost for
ever; picnics and shouting in the moonlight.
The chief shopwalker took a dislike to him and nagged
him. "Nar then Polly!" "Look alive Polly!" be-
came the burthen of his days. " As smart a chap as you
could have," said the chief shopwalker, "but no Zest.
No Zest! No Vim! What's the matter with you? "
During his night vigils Mr. Polly had a feeling
A young rabbit must have very much the feeling, when
after a youth of gambolling in sunny woods and furtive
jolly raids upon the growing wheat and exciting trium-
phant bolts before ineffectual casual dogs, it finds itself
at last for a long night of floundering effort and per-
plexity, in a net for the rest of its life.
He could not grasp what was wrong with him. He
made enormous efforts to diagnose his case. Was he
really just a " lazy slacker " who ought to " buck up " ?
62 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
He couldn't find it in him to believe it. He blamed his
father a good deal it is what fathers are for in put-
ting him to a trade he wasn't happy to follow, but he
found it impossible to say what he ought to have fol-
lowed. He felt there had been something stupid about his
school, but just where that came in he couldn't say. He
made some perfectly sincere efforts to " buck up " and
" shove " ruthlessly. But that was infernal impossible.
He had to admit himself miserable with all the misery of
a social misfit, and with no clear prospect of more than
the most incidental happiness ahead of him. And for all
his attempts at self-reproach or self-discipline he felt at
bottom that he wasn't at fault.
As a matter of fact all the elements of his troubles had
been adequately diagnosed by a certain high-browed,
spectacled gentleman living at Highbury, wearing a gold
pince-nez, and writing for the most part in the beautiful
library of the Reform Club. This gentleman did not
know Mr. Polly personally, but he had dealt with him
generally as " one of those ill-adjusted units that abound
in a society that has failed to develop a collective intelli-
gence and a collective will for order, commensurate with
But phrases of that sort had no appeal for Mr. Polly.
MR. POLLY AN ORPHAN
THEN a great change was brought about in the
life of Mr. Polly by the death of his father.
His father had died suddenly the local practi-
tioner still clung to his theory that it was imagination he
suffered from, but compromised in the certificate with the
appendicitis that was then so fashionable and Mr. Polly
found himself heir to a debateable number of pieces of
furniture in the house of his cousin near Easewood
Junction, a family Bible, an engraved portrait of Gari-
baldi and a bust of Mr. Gladstone, an invalid gold watch,
a gold locket formerly belonging to his mother, some
minor jewelry and bric-a-brac, a quantity of nearly
valueless old clothes and an insurance policy and money
in the bank amounting altogether to the sum of three
hundred and ninety-five pounds.
Mr. Polly had always regarded his father as an im-
mortal, as an eternal fact, and his father being of a re-
served nature in his declining years had said nothing
about the insurance policy. Both wealth and bereave-
ment therefore took Mr. Polly by surprise and found him
a little inadequate. His mother's death had been a
66 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
childish grief and long forgotten, and the strongest af-
fection in his life had been for Parsons. An only child
of sociable tendencies necessarily turns his back a good
deal upon home, and the aunt who had succeeded his
mother was an economist and furniture polisher, a
knuckle rapper and sharp silencer, no friend for a slov-
enly little boy. He had loved other little boys and girls
transitorily, none had been frequent and familiar enough
to strike deep roots in his heart, and he had grown up
with a tattered and dissipated affectionateness that was
becoming wildly shy. His father had always been a
stranger, an irritable stranger with exceptional powers of
intervention and comment, and an air of being disap-
pointed about his offspring. It was shocking to lose him ;
it was like an unexpected hole in the universe, and the
writing of " Death " upon the sky, but it did not tear
Mr. Polly's heartstrings at first so much as rouse him to
a pitch of vivid attention.
He came down to the cottage at Easewood in response
to an urgent telegram, and found his father already
dead. His cousin Johnson received him with much sol-
emnity and ushered him upstairs, to look at a stiff,
straight, shrouded form, with a face unwontedly quiet
and, as it seemed, with its pinched nostrils, scornful.
" Looks peaceful," said Mr. Polly, disregarding the
scorn to the best of his ability.
" It was a merciful relief," said Mr. Johnson.
There was a pause.
" Second Second Departed I've ever seen. Not
MR. POLLY 'AN ORPHAN 67
counting mummies," said Mr. Polly, feeling it necessary
to say something.
" We did all we could."
" No doubt of it, O' Man," said Mr. Polly.
A second long pause followed, and then, much to
Mr. Polly's great relief, Johnson moved towards the
Afterwards Mr. Polly went for a solitary walk in the
evening light, and as he walked, suddenly his dead father
became real to him. He thought of things far away
down the perspective of memory, of jolly moments when
his father had skylarked with a wildly excited little boy,
of a certain annual visit to the Crystal Palace pantomime,
full of trivial glittering incidents and wonders, of his
father's dread back while customers were in the old,
minutely known shop. It is curious that the memory which
seemed to link him nearest to the dead man was the
memory of a fit of passion. His father had wanted to
get a small sofa up the narrow winding staircase from
the little room behind the shop to the bedroom above, and
it had jammed. For a time his father had coaxed, and
then groaned like a soul in torment and given way to
blind fury, had sworn, kicked and struck at the offending
piece of furniture and finally wrenched it upstairs, with
considerable incidental damage to lath and plaster and
one of the castors. That moment when self-control was
altogether torn aside, the shocked discovery of his
father's perfect humanity, had left a singular impression
on Mr. Polly's queer mind. It was as if something ex-
68 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
travagantly vital had come out of his father and laid a
warmly passionate hand upon his heart. He remembered
that now very vividly, and it became a clue to endless
other memories that had else been dispersed and confus-
A weakly wilful being struggling to get obdurate
things round impossible corners in that symbol Mr.
Polly could recognise himself and all the trouble of
He hadn't had a particularly good time, poor old chap,
and now it was all over. Finished. . . .
Johnson was the sort of man who derives great satis-
faction from a funeral, a melancholy, serious, practical-
minded man of five and thirty, with great powers of ad-
vice. He was the up-line ticket clerk at Easewood Junc-
tion, and felt the responsibilities of his position. He was
naturally thoughtful and reserved, and greatly sustained
in that by an innate rectitude of body and an overhanging
and forward inclination of the upper part of his face and
head. He was pale but freckled, and his dark grey eyes
were deeply set. His lightest interest was cricket, but
he did not take that lightly. His chief holiday was to go
to a cricket match, which he did as if he was going to
church, and he watched critically, applauded sparingly,
and was darkly offended by any unorthodox play. His
convictions upon all subjects were taciturnly inflexible.
He was an obstinate player of draughts and chess, and
an earnest and persistent reader of the British Weekly.
'His wife was a pink, short, wilfully smiling, managing,
MR. POLLY AN ORPHAN 69
ingratiating, talkative woman, who was determined to
be pleasant, and take a bright hopeful view of every-
thing, even when it was not really bright and hopeful.
She had large blue expressive eyes and a round face,
and she always spoke of her husband as Harold. She
addressed sympathetic and considerate remarks about the
deceased to Mr. Polly in notes of brisk encouragement.
" He was really quite cheerful at the end," she said sev-
eral times, with congratulatory gusto, "quite cheer-
She made dying seem almost agreeable.
Both these people were resolved to treat Mr. Polly
very well, and to help his exceptional incompetence in
every possible way, and after a simple supper of ham and
bread and cheese and pickles and cold apple tart and
small beer had been cleared away, they put him into the
armchair almost as though he was an invalid, and sat on
chairs that made them look down on him, and opened a
directive discussion of the arrangements for the funeral.
After all a funeral is a distinct social opportunity, and
rare when you have no family and few relations, and they
did not want to see it spoilt and wasted.
" You'll have a hearse of course," said Mrs. Johnson.
" Not one of them combinations with the driver sitting
on the coffin. Disrespectful I think they are. I can't
fancy how people can bring themselves to be buried in
combinations." She flattened her voice in a manner she
used to intimate aesthetic feeling. " I do like them glass
hearses," she said. " So refined and nice they are."
70 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
" Podger's hearse you'll have," said Johnson con-
clusively. " It's the best in Easewood."
" Everything that's right and proper," said Mr. Polly.
" Podger's ready to come and measure at any time,"
" Then you'll want a mourner's carriage or two, ac-
cording as to whom you're going to invite," said Mr.
" Didn't think of inviting any one," said Polly.
" Oh ! you'll have to ask a few friends," said Mr. John-
son. " You can't let your father go to his grave without
asking a few friends."
" Funerial baked meats like," said Mr. Polly.
" Not baked, but of course you'll have to give them
something. Ham and chicken's very suitable. You don't
want a lot of cooking with the ceremony coming into the
middle of it. I wonder who Alfred ought to invite,
Harold. Just the immediate relations; one doesn't want
a great crowd of people and one doesn't want not to
" But he hated our relations most of them."
" He's not hating them nozv," said Mrs. Johnson, " you
may be sure of that. It's just because of that I think
they ought to come all of them even your Aunt Mil-
" Bit vulturial, isn't it?" said Mr. Polly unheeded.
" Wouldn't be more than twelve or thirteen people if
they all came," said Mr. Johnson.
" We could have everything put out ready in the back
MR. POLLY AN ORPHAN 71
room and the gloves and whiskey in the front room, and
while we were all at the ceremony, Bessie could bring it
all into the front room on a tray and put it out nice and
proper. There'd have to be whiskey and sherry or port
for the ladies. . . ."
" Where'li you get your mourning? " asked Johnson
Mr. Polly had not yet considered this by-product of
sorrow. " Haven't thought of it yet, O' Man."
A disagreeable feeling spread over his body as though
he was blackening as he sat. He hated black gar-
" I suppose I must have mourning," he said.
" Well!" said Johnson with a solemn smile.
" Got to see it through," said Mr. Polly indistinctly.
" If I were you," said Johnson, " I should get ready^
made trousers. That's all you really want. And a black
satin tie and a top hat with a deep mourning band. And
" Jet cuff links he ought to have as chief mourner,"
said Mrs. Johnson.
" Not obligatory," said Johnson.
" It shows respect," said Mrs. Johnson.
" It shows respect of course," said Johnson.
And then Mrs. Johnson went on with the utmost gusto
to the details of the " casket," while Mr. Polly sat more
and more deeply and droopingly into the armchair, as-
senting with a note of protest to all they said. After he
had retired for the night he remained for a long time
72 THE HISTORY. OF, MR. POLLY
perched on the edge of the sofa which was his bed, star-
ing at the prospect before him. " Chasing the O' Man
about up to the last," he said.
He hated the thought and elaboration of death as a
healthy animal must hate it. His mind struggled with
unwonted social problems.
" Got to put 'em away somehow, I suppose," said Mr.
" Wish I'd looked him up a bit more while he was
alive," said Mr. Polly.
Bereavement came to Mr. Polly before the realisation
of opulence and its anxieties and responsibilities. That
only dawned upon him on the morrow which chanced
to be Sunday as he walked with Johnson before church
time about the tangle of struggling building enterprise
that constituted the rising urban district of Easewood.
Johnson was off duty that morning, and devoted the time
very generously to the admonitory discussion of Mr.
Polly's worldly outlook.
" Don't seem to get the hang of the business some-
how," said Mr. Polly. " Too much blooming humbug
in it for my way of thinking."
" If I were you," said Mr. Johnson, " I should push
for a first-class place in London take almost nothing
and live on my reserves. That's what I should do."
" Come the Heavy," said Mr. Polly.
" Get a better class reference."
MR. POLLY AN ORPHAN 73
There was a pause. " Think of investing your
money? " asked Johnson.
" Hardly got used to the idea of having it yet, O'
" You'll have to do something faith it. Give you nearly
twenty pounds a year if you invest it properly."
"Haven't seen it yet in that light," said Mr. Polly
"There's no end of things you could put it into."
" It's getting it out again I shouldn't feel sure of. I'm
no sort of Fiancianier. Sooner back horses."
" I wouldn't do that if I were you."
" Not my style, O' Man."
" It's a nest egg," said Johnson.
Mr. Polly made an indeterminate noise.
" There's building societies," Johnson threw out in a
speculative tone. Mr. Polly, with detached brevity, ad-
mitted there were.
" You might lend it on mortgage," said Johnson.
" Very safe form of investment."
" Shan't think anything about it not till the O' Man's
underground," said Mr. Polly with an inspiration.
They turned a corner that led towards the junction.
" Might do worse," said Johnson, " than put it into a
At the moment this remark made very little appeal to
Mr. Polly. But afterwards it developed. It fell into
his mind like some small obscure seed, and germinated.
" These shops aren't in a bad position," said Johnson.
74 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
The row he referred to gaped in the late painful stage
in building before the healing touch of the plasterer
assuages the roughness of the brickwork. The space
for the shop yawned an oblong gap below, framed above
by an iron girder ; " windows and fittings to suit tenant,"
a board at the end of the row promised; and behind
was the door space and a glimpse of stairs going up to
the living rooms above. " Not a bad position," said
Johnson, and led the way into the establishment. " Room
for fixtures there," he said, pointing to the blank wall.
The two men went upstairs to the little sitting-room or
best bedroom (it would have to be) above the shop.
Then they descended to the kitchen below.
" Rooms in a new house always look a bit small,"
They came out of the house again by the prospective
back door, and picked their way through builder's litter
across the yard space to the road again. They drew
nearer the junction to where a pavement and shops al-
ready open and active formed the commercial centre
of Easewood. On the opposite side of the way the side
door of a flourishing little establishment opened, and a
man and his wife and a little boy in a sailor suit came
into the street. The wife was a pretty woman in
brown with a floriferous straw hat, and the group was
altogether very Sundayfied and shiny and spick and
span. The shop itself had a large plate-glass window
whose contents were now veiled by a buff blind on which
was inscribed in scrolly letters : " Rymer, Pork Butcher
MR. POLLY AN ORPHAN 75
and Provision Merchant," and then with voluptu-
ous elaboration : " The World-Famed Easevvood Sau-
Greetings were exchanged between Mr. Johnson and
this distinguished comestible.
"Off to church already?" said Johnson.
" Walking across the fields to Little Dorington," said
" Very pleasant walk," said Johnson.
" Very," said Mr. Rymer.
" Hope you'll enjoy it," said Mr. Johnson.
" That chap's done well," said Johnson sotto voce as
they went on. " Came here with nothing practically,
four years ago. And as thin as a lath. Look at him
now ! "
" He's worked hard of course," said Johnson, improv-
ing the occasion.
Thought fell between the cousins for a space.
" Some men can do one thing," said Johnson, " and 1
some another. . . . For a man who sticks to it
there's a lot to be done in a shop."
All the preparations for the funeral ran easily and
happily under Mrs. Johnson's skilful hands. On the
eve of the sad event she produced a reserve of black
sateen, the kitchen steps and a box of tintacks, and
decorated the house with festoons and bows of black in
76 THE HISTORY. OF. MR. POLLY.
the best possible taste. She tied up the knocker with
black crape, and put a large bow over the corner of the
steel engraving of Garibaldi, and swathed the bust of
Mr. Gladstone, that had belonged to the deceased, with
inky swathings. She turned the two vases that had views
of Tivoli and the Bay of Naples round, so that these
rather brilliant landscapes were hidden and only the
plain blue enamel showed, and she anticipated the long-
contemplated purchase of a tablecloth for the front room,
and substituted a violet purple cover for the now very
worn and faded raptures and roses in plushette that had
hitherto done duty there. Everything that loving con-
sideration could do to impart a dignified solemnity to her
little home was done.
She had released Mr. Polly from the irksome duty of
issuing invitations, and as the moments of assembly drew
near she sent him and Mr. Johnson out into the narrow
long strip of garden at the back of the house, to be free
to put a finishing touch or so to her preparations. She
sent them out together because she had a queer little
persuasion at the back of her mind that Mr. Polly wanted
to bolt from his sacred duties, and there was no way out
of the garden except through the house.
Mr. Johnson was a steady, successful gardener, and
particularly good with celery and peas. He walked
slowly along the narrow path down the centre pointing
out to Mr. Polly a number of interesting points in the
management of peas, wrinkles neatly applied and diffi-
culties wisely overcome, and all that he did for the
MR. POLLY AN ORPHAN 77
comfort and propitiation of that fitful but rewarding
vegetable. Presently a sound of nervous laughter and
raised voices from the house proclaimed the arrival of
the earlier guests, and the worst of that anticipatory ten-
sion was over.
When Mr. Polly re-entered the house he found three
entirely strange young women with pink faces, demon-
strative manners and emphatic mourning, engaged in an
incoherent conversation with Mrs. Johnson. All three
kissed him with great gusto after the ancient English
fashion. " These are your cousins Larkins," said Mrs.
Johnson; "that's Annie (unexpected hug and smack),
that's Miriam (resolute hug and smack), and that's Min-
nie (prolonged hug and smack).
" Right-O," said Mr. Polly, emerging a little crumpled
and breathless from this hearty introduction. " I see."
" Here's Aunt Larkins," said Mrs. Johnson, as an
elderly and stouter edition of the three young women
appeared in the doorway.
Mr. Polly backed rather faint-heartedly, but Aunt Lar-
kins was not to be denied. Having hugged and kissed
her nephew resoundingly she gripped him by the wrists
and scanned his features. She had a round, sentimental,
freckled face. " I should 'ave known 'im anywhere,"
she said with fervour.
" Hark at mother ! " said the cousin called Annie.
" Why, she's never set eyes on him before ! "
" I should 'ave known 'im anywhere," said Mrs. Lar-
kins, " for Lizzie's child. You've got her eyes ! It's
78 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
a Resemblance ! And as for never seeing 'im I've dan-
dled him, Miss Imperence. I've dandled him."
" You couldn't dandle him now, Ma ! " Miss Annie
remarked with a shriek of laughter.
All the sisters laughed at that " The things you
say, Annie ! " said Miriam, and for a time the room was
full of mirth.
Mr. Polly felt it incumbent upon him to say something.
"My dandling days are over," he said.
The reception of this remark would have convinced a
far more modest character than Mr. Polly that it was
Mr. Polly followed it up by another one almost equally
good. " My turn to dandle," he said, with a sly look at
his aunt, and convulsed everyone.
" Not me," said Mrs. Larkins, taking his point, " thank
you," and achieved a climax.
It was queer, but they seemed to be easy people to get
on with anyhow. They were still picking little ripples
and giggles of mirth from the idea of Mr. Polly dandling
Aunt Larkins when Mr. Johnson, who had answered
the door, ushered in a stooping figure, who was at once
hailed by Mrs. Johnson as " Why ! Uncle Pentstemon ! "
Uncle Pentstemon was rather a shock. His was an aged
rather than venerable figure; Time had removed the
hair from the top of his head and distributed a small
dividend of the plunder in little bunches carelessly and
impartially over the rest of his features ; he was dressed
in a very big old frock coat and a long cylindrical top
MR. POLLY AN ORPHAN 79
hat, which he had kept on ; he was very much bent, and
he carried a rush basket from which protruded coy inti-
mations of the lettuces and onions he had brought to
grace the occasion. He hobbled into the room, resisting
the efforts of Johnson to divest him of his various encum-
brances, halted and surveyed the company with an ex-
pression of profound hostility, breathing hard. Recog-
nition quickened in his eyes.
" You here," he said to Aunt Larkins and then ; " You
would be. ... These your gals ? "
" They are," said Aunt Larkins, " and better gals "
" That Annie ? " asked Uncle Pentstemon, pointing a
" Fancy your remembering her name ! "
" She mucked up my mushroom bed, the baggage ! "
said Uncle Pentstemon ungenially, " and I give it to her
to rights. Trounced her I did fairly. / remember
her. Here's some green stuff for you, Grace. Fresh
it is and wholesome. I shall be wanting the basket back
and mind you let me have it. ... Have you nailed
him down yet ? You always was a bit in front of what
His attention was drawn inward by a troublesome
tooth, and he sucked at it spitefully. There was some-
thing potent about this old man that silenced everyone
for a moment or so. He seemed a fragment from the
ruder agricultural past of our race, like a lump of soil
among things of paper. He put his basket of vegetables
very deliberately on the new violet tablecloth, removed
8o THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
his hat carefully and dabbled his brow, and wiped out
his hat brim with a crimson and yellow pocket handker-
" I'm glad you were able to come, Uncle," said Mrs.
" Oh, I came" said Uncle Pentstemon. " I came"
He turned on Mrs. Larkins. "Gals in service?" he
" They aren't and they won't be," said Mrs. Larkins.
" No," he said with infinite meaning, and turned his
eye on Mr. Polly.
" You Lizzie's boy? " he said.
Mr. Polly was spared much self-exposition by the
tumult occasioned by further arrivals.
"Ah! here's May Punt!" said Mrs. Johnson, and a
small woman dressed in the borrowed mourning of a
large woman and leading a very small long-haired ob-
servant little boy it was his first funeral appeared,
closely followed by several friends of Mrs. Johnson who
had come to swell the display of respect and made only
vague, confused impressions upon Mr. Polly's mind.
(Aunt Mildred, who was an unexplained family scandal,
had declined Mrs. Johnson's hospitality.)
Everybody was in profound mourning, of course,
mourning in the modern English style, with the dyer's
handiwork only too apparent, and hats and jackets of
the current cut. There was very little crape, and the
costumes had none of the goodness and specialisation
and genuine enjoyment of mourning for mourning's
MR. POLLY 'AN ORPHAN Si
sake that a similar continental gathering would have
displayed. Still that congestion of strangers in black
sufficed to stun and confuse Mr. Polly's impressionable
mind. It seemed to him much more extraordinary than
anything he had expected.
" Now, gals," said Mrs. Larkins, " see if you can
help," and the three daughters became confusingly active
between the front room and the back.
" I hope everyone'll take a glass of sherry and a bis-
cuit," said Mrs. Johnson. " We don't stand on cere-
mony," and a decanter appeared in the place of Uncle
Uncle Pentstemon had refused to be relieved of his
hat ; he sat stiffly down on a chair against the wall with
that venerable headdress between his feet, watching the
approach of anyone jealously. " Don't you go squash-
ing my hat," he said. Conversation became confused
and general. Uncle Pentstemon addressed himself to
Mr. Polly. "You're a little chap," he said, "a puny
little chap. I never did agree to Lizzie marrying him,
but I suppose bygones must be bygones now. I suppose
they made you a clerk or something."
" Outfitter," said Mr. Polly.
" I remember. Them girls pretend to be dress-
" They are dressmakers," said Airs. Larkins across
" I will take a glass of sherry. They 'old to it, you
82 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
He took the glass Mrs. Johnson handed him, and
poised it critically between a horny finger and thumb.
" You'll be paying for this," he said to Mr. Polly.
" Here's to you. . . . Don't you go treading on my
hat, young woman. You brush your skirts against it
and you take a shillin' off its value. It ain't the sort of
'at you see nowadays."
He drank noisily.
The sherry presently loosened everybody's tongue, and
the early coldness passed.
" There ought to have been a post-mortem" Polly
heard Mrs. Punt remarking to one of Mrs. Johnson's
friends, and Miriam and another were lost in admiration
of Mrs. Johnson's decorations. " So very nice and re-
fined," they were both repeating at intervals.
The sherry and biscuits were still being discussed when
Mr. Podger, the undertaker, arrived, a broad, cheerfully
sorrowful, clean-shaven little man, accompanied by a
melancholy-faced assistant. He conversed for a time
with Johnson in the passage outside; the sense of his
business stilled the rising waves of chatter and carried
oft" everyone's attention in the wake of his heavy foot-
steps to the room above.
Things crowded upon Mr. Polly. Everyone, he
noticed, took sherry with a solemn avidity, and a small
portion even was administered sacramentally to the Punt
MR. POLLY AN ORPHAN 83
boy. There followed a distribution of black kid gloves,
and much trying on and humouring of fingers. " Good
gloves," said one of Mrs. Johnson's friends. " There's
a little pair there for Willie," said Mrs. Johnson trium-
phantly. Everyone seemed gravely content with the
amazing procedure of the occasion. Presently Mr. Pod-
ger was picking Mr. Polly out as Chief Mourner to go
with Mrs. Johnson, Mrs. Larkins and Annie in the first
" Right O," said Mr. Polly, and repented instantly of
the alacrity of the phrase.
'' There'll have to be a walking party," said Mrs.
Johnson cheerfully. " There's only two coaches. I
daresay we can put in six in each, but that leaves three
There was a generous struggle to be pedestrian, and
the two other Larkins girls, confessing coyly to tight
new boots and displaying a certain eagerness, were
added to the contents of the first carriage.
" It'll be a squeeze," said Annie.
"I don't mind a squeeze," said Mr. Polly.
He decided privately that the proper phrase for the
result of that remark was " Hysterial catechunations."
Mr. Podger re-entered the room from a momentary
supervision of the bumping business that was now pro-
ceeding down the staircase.
" Bearing up," he said cheerfully, rubbing his hands
together. " Bearing up ! "
That stuck very vividly in Mr. Polly's mind, and so
84 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
did the close-wedged drive to the churchyard, bunched
in between two young women in confused dull and shiny
black, and the fact that the wind was bleak and that
the officiating clergyman had a cold, and sniffed between
his sentences. The wonder of life! The wonder of
everything! What had he expected that this should
all be so astoundingly different.
He found his attention converging more and more
upon the Larkins cousins. The interest was reciprocal.
They watched him with a kind of suppressed excitement
and became risible with his every word and gesture.
He was more and more aware of their personal quality.
Annie had blue eyes and a red, attractive mouth, a harsh
voice and a habit of extreme liveliness that even this
occasion could not suppress ; Minnie was fond, extremely
free about the touching of hands and suchlike endear-
ments; Miriam was quieter and regarded him earnestly.
Mrs. Larkins was very happy in her daughters, and they
had the naive affectionateness of those who see few peo-
ple and find a strange cousin a wonderful outlet. Mr.
Polly had never been very much kissed, and it made his
mind swim. He did not know for the life of him whether
he liked or disliked all or any of the Larkins cousins.
It was rather attractive to make them laugh ; they laughed
There they were tugging at his mind, and the funeral
tugging at his mind, too, and the sense of himself as
Chief Mourner in a brand new silk hat with a broad
mourning band. He watched the ceremony and missed
MR. POLLY. ~AN ORPHAN 85
his responses, and strange feelings twisted at his heart-
Mr. Polly walked back to the house because he wanted
to be alone. Miriam and Minnie would have accom-
panied him, but finding Uncle Pentstemon beside the
Chief Mourner they went on in front.
" You're wise," said Uncle Pentstemon.
" Glad you think so," said Mr. Polly, rousing himself
" I likes a bit of walking before a meal," said Uncle
Pentstemon, and made a kind of large hiccup. " That
-sherry rises," he remarked. " Grocer's stuff, I expect."
He went on to ask how much the funeral might be
costing, and seemed pleased to find Mr. Polly didn't
" In that case," he said impressively, " it's pretty cer-
tain to cost more'n you expect, my boy."
He meditated for a time. " I've seen a mort of un-
dertakers," he declared; "a mort of undertakers."
The Larkins girls attracted his attention.
" Let's lodgin's and chars," he commented. " Least-
ways she goes out to cook dinners. And look at 'em ! "
"Dressed up to the nines. If it ain't borryd clothes,
that is. And they goes out to work at a factory ! "
" Did you know my father much, Uncle Pentstemon?"
asked Mr. Polly.
" Couldn't stand Lizzie throwin' herself away like
86 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
that," said Uncle Pentstemon, and repeated his hiccup
on a larger scale.
" That weren't good sherry," said Uncle Pentstemon
with the first note of pathos Mr. Polly had detected in
his quavering voice.
The funeral in the rather cold wind had proved won-
derfully appetising, and every eye brightened at the sight
of the cold collation that was now spread in the front
room. Mrs. Johnson was very brisk, and Mr. Polly,
when he re-entered the house found everybody sitting
down. " Come along, Alfred," cried the hostess cheer-
fully. " We can't very well begin without you. Have
you got the bottled beer ready to open, Betsy? Uncle,
you'll have a drop of whiskey, I expect."
" Put it where I can mix for myself," said Uncle
Pentstemon, placing his hat very carefully out of harm's
way on the bookcase.
There were two cold boiled chickens, which Johnson
carved with great care and justice, and a nice piece of
ham, some brawn and a steak and kidney pie, a large bowl
of salad and several sorts of pickles, and afterwards
came cold apple tart, jam roll and a good piece of Stil-
ton cheese, lots of bottled beer, some lemonade for the
ladies and milk for Master Punt; a very bright and
satisfying meal. Mr. Polly found himself seated between
Mrs. Punt, who was much preoccupied with Master
Punt's table manners, and one of Mrs. Johnson's school
friends, who was exchanging reminiscences of school
days and news of how various common friends had
MR. POLLY AN ORPHAN 87
changed and married with Mrs. Johnson. Opposite him
was Miriam and another of the Johnson circle, and also
he had brawn to carve and there was hardly room for
the helpful Betsy to pass behind his chair, so that alto-
gether his mind would have been amply distracted from
any mortuary breedings, even if a wordy warfare about
the education of the modern young woman had not
sprung up between Uncle Pentstemon and Mrs. Larkins
and threatened for a time, in spite of a word or so in
season from Johnson, to wreck all the harmony of the
The general effect was after this fashion:
First an impression of Mrs. Punt on the right speaking
in a refined undertone : " You didn't, I suppose, Mr.
Polly, think to 'ave your poor dear father post-mor-
Lady on the left side breaking in : "I was just remind-
ing Grace of the dear dead days beyond recall "
Attempted reply to Mrs. Punt: "Didn't think of it
for a moment. Can't give you a piece of this brawn,
Fragment from the left : " Grace and Beauty they used
to call us and we used to sit at the same desk "
Mrs. Punt, breaking out suddenly : " Don't swaller
your fork, Willy. You see, Mr. Polly, I used to 'ave a
young gentleman, a medical student, lodging with
Voice from down the table: " 'Am, Alfred? I didn't
give you very much."
88 THE HISTORY. OF. MR. POLLY
Bessie became evident at the back of Mr. Polly's chair,
struggling wildly to get past. Mr. Polly did his best
to be helpful. " Can you get past? Lemme sit forward
a bit. Urr-oo! Right O."
Lady to the left going on valiantly and speaking to
everyone who cares to listen, while Mrs. Johnson beams
beside her : " There she used to sit as bold as brass, and
the fun she used to make of things no one could believe
. knowing her now. She used to make faces at the mis-
tress through the "
Mrs. Punt keeping steadily on : " The contents of the
stummik at any rate ought to be examined."
Voice of Mr. Johnson. " Elf rid, pass the musticf
Miriam leaning across the table : " Elfrid ! "
" Once she got us all kept in. The whole
Miriam, more insistently : " Elfrid ! "
Uncle Pentstemon, raising his voice defiantly:
"Trounce 'er again I would if she did as much now.
That I would ! Dratted mischief ! "
Miriam, catching Mr. Polly's eye: "Elfrid! This
lady knows Canterbury. I been telling her you been
Mr. Polly : " Glad you know it."
The lady shouting: " I like it."
Mrs. Larkins, raising her voice : " I won't 'ave my
girls spoken of, not by nobody, old or young."
POP! imperfectly located.
MR. POLLY 'AN ORPHAN 89
Mr. Johnson at large : " Ain't the beer up ! It's the
Bessie : " Scuse me, sir, passing so soon again, but "
Rest inaudible. Mr. Polly, accommodating himself:
"Urr-oo! Right? Right O."
The knives and forks, probably by some secret common
agreement, clash and clatter together and drown every
" Nobody 'ad the least idea 'ow 'E died, nobody. . . .
Willie, don't golp so. You ain't in a 'urry, are you?
You don't want to ketch a train or anything, golping
like that ! "
" D'you remember, Grace, 'ow one day we 'ad writing
lesson. . . ."
" Nicer girls no one ever 'ad though I say it who
Mrs. Johnson in a shrill clear hospitable voice : " Har-
old, won't Mrs. Larkins 'ave a teeny bit more fowl ? "
Mr. Polly rising to the situation. " Or some brawn,
Mrs. Larkins?" Catching Uncle Pentstemon's eye:
" Can't send you some brawn, sir? "
" Elf rid ! "
Loud hiccup from Uncle Pentstemon, momentary con-
sternation followed by giggle from Annie.
The narration at Mr. Polly's elbow pursued a quiet
but relentless course. " Directly the new doctor came in
he said : ' Everything must be took out and put in.
spirits everything.' "
Willie, audible ingurgitation.
90 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
The narration on the left was flourishing up to a
climax. " Ladies," she sez, " dip their pens in their ink
and keep their noses out of it ! "
" Elfrid ! " persuasively.
" Certain people may cast snacks at other people's
daughters, never having had any of their own, though
two poor souls of wives dead and buried through their
goings on "
Johnson ruling the storm : " We don't want old scores
dug up on such a day as this "
" Old scores you may call them, but worth a dozen of
them that put them to their rest, poor dears."
" Elfrid ! " with a note of remonstrance.
" If you choke yourself, my lord, not another mouthful
do you 'ave. No nice puddin' ! Nothing ! "
" And kept us in, she did, every afternoon for a week ! "
It seemed to be the end, and Mr. Polly replied with an
air of being profoundly impressed : " Really ! "
" Elfrid ! "a little disheartened.
" And then they 'ad it ! They found he'd swallowed
the very key to unlock the drawer "
" Then don't let people go casting snacks ! "
" Who's casting snacks ! "
" Elfrid ! This lady wants to know, 'ave the Prossers
" No wish to make myself disagreeable, not to God's
'umblest worm "
" Alf, you aren't very busy with that brawn up there ! "
And so on for the hour.
MR. POLLY 'AN ORPHAN 91
The general effect upon Mr. Polly at the time was at
once confusing and exhilarating; but it led him to eat
copiously and carelessly, and long before the end, when
after an hour and a quarter a movement took the party,
and it pushed away its cheese plates and rose sighing
and stretching from the remains of the repast, little
streaks and bands of dyspeptic irritation and melancholy
were darkening the serenity of his mind.
He stood between the mantel shelf and the window
the blinds were up now and the Larkins sisters clustered
about him. He battled with the oncoming depression and
forced himself to be extremely facetious about two
noticeable rings on Annie's hand. " They ain't real,"
said Annie coquettishly. " Got 'em out of a prize
" Prize packet in trousers, I expect," said Mr. Polly,
and awakened inextinguishable laughter.
" Oh ! the things you say ! " said Minnie, slapping his
Suddenly something he had quite extraordinarily for-
gotten came into his head.
" Bless my heart ! " he cried, suddenly serious.
"What's the matter?" asked Johnson.
" Ought to have gone back to shop three days ago.
They'll make no end of a row ! "
" Lor, you are a Treat ! " said cousin Annie, and
screamed with laughter at a delicious idea. " You'll get
the Chuck," she said.
Mr. Polly made a convulsing grimace at her.
92 THE HISTORY. OF MR. POLLY.
" I'll die ! " she said. " I don't believe you care a bit ! "
Feeling a little disorganized by her hilarity and a
shocked expression that had come to the face of cousin
Miriam, he made some indistinct excuse and went out
through the back room and scullery into the little gar-
den. The cool air and a very slight drizzle of rain was
a relief anyhow. But the black mood of the replete
dyspeptic had come upon him. His soul darkened hope-
lessly. He walked with his hands in his pockets down
the path between the rows of exceptionally cultured peas
and unreasonably, overwhelmingly, he was smitten by
sorrow for his father. The heady noise and muddle and
confused excitement of the feast passed from him like a
curtain drawn away. He thought of that hot and angry
and struggling creature who had tugged and sworn so
foolishly at the sofa upon the twisted staircase, and who
was now lying still and hidden, at the bottom of a
wall-sided oblong pit beside the heaped gravel that would
presently cover him. The stillness of it ! the wonder of
it! the infinite reproach! Hatred for all these people
all of them possessed Mr. Polly's soul.
"Hen-witted gigglers," said Mr. Polly.
He went down to the fence, and stood with his hands
on it staring away at nothing. He stayed there for what
seemed a long time. From the house came a sound of
raised voices that subsided, and then Mrs. Johnson call-
ing for Bessie.
" Gowlish gusto," said Mr. Polly. " Jumping it in.
MR. POLLY AN ORPHAN 93
Funererial Games. Don't hurt him of course. Doesn't
matter to him. . . ."
Nobody missed Mr. Polly for a long time.
When at last he reappeared among them his eye was
almost grim, but nobody noticed his eye. They were
looking at watches, and Johnson was being omniscient
about trains. They seemed to discover Mr. Polly afresh
just at the moment of parting, and said a number of
more or less appropriate things. But Uncle Pentstemon
was far too worried about his rush basket, which had
been carelessly mislaid, he seemed to think with larcen-
ous intentions, to remember Mr. Polly at all. Mrs. John-
son had tried to fob him off with a similar but inferior
basket, his own had one handle mended with string
according to a method of peculiar virtue and inimitable
distinction known only to himself and the old gentle-
man had taken her attempt as the gravest reflection upon
his years and intelligence. Mr. Polly was left very
largely to the Larkins trio. Cousin Minnie became shame-
less and kept kissing him good-by and then finding
out it wasn't time to go. Cousin Miriam seemed to
think her silly, and caught Mr. Polly's eye sympathet-
ically. Cousin Annie ceased to giggle and lapsed into a
nearly sentimental state. She said with real feeling that
she had enjoyed the funeral more than words could tell.
MR. POLLY TAKES A VACATION
CHAPTER THE FIFTH
MR. POLLY TAKES A VACATION
'R. POLLY returned to Clapham from the
funeral celebration prepared for trouble, and
took his dismissal in a manly spirit.
" You've merely anti-separated me by a hair," he said
And he told them in the dormitory that he meant to
take a little holiday before his next crib, though a certain
inherited reticence suppressed the fact of the legacy.
" You'll do that all right," said Ascough, the head of
the boot shop. " It's quite the fashion just at present
Six Weeks in Wonderful Wood Street. They're run-
ning excursions. . . ."
" A little holiday ; " that was the form his sense of
wealth took first, that it made a little holiday possible.
Holidays were his life, and the rest merely adulterated
living. And now he might take a little holiday and have
money for railway fares and money for meals and money
for inns. But he wanted someone to take the holi-
For a time he cherished a design of hunting up Par-
98 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
sons, getting him to throw up his situation, and going
with him to Stratford-on-Avon and Shrewsbury and the
Welsh mountains and the Wye and a lot of places like
that, for a really gorgeous, careless, illimitable old holi-
day of a month. But alas ! Parsons had gone from the
St. Paul's Churchyard outfitter's long ago, and left no
Mr. Polly tried to think he would be almost as happy
wandering alone, but he knew better. He had dreamt
of casual encounters with delightfully interesting peo-
ple by the wayside even romantic encounters. Such
things happened in Chaucer and " Bocashiew," they hap-
pened with extreme facility in Mr. Richard Le Gallienne's
very detrimental book, The Quest of the Golden Girl,
which he had read at Canterbury, but he had no confi-
dence they would happen in England to him.
When, a month later, he. came out of the Clapham side
door at last into the bright sunshine of a fine London
day, with a dazzling sense of limitless freedom upon him,
he did nothing more adventurous than order the cabman
to drive to Waterloo, and there take a ticket for Ease-
He wanted what did he want most in life? I think
his distinctive craving is best expressed as fun fun in
companionship. He had already spent a pound or two
upon three select feasts to his fellow assistants, sprat
suppers they were, and there had been a great and very
successful Sunday pilgrimage to Richmond, by Wands-
worth and Wimbledon's open common, a trailing garru-
MR. POLLY TAKES A VACATION 99
lotis company walking about a solemnly happy host, to
wonderful cold meat and salad at the Roebuck, a bowl of
punch, punch ! and a bill to correspond ; but now it was a
week-day, and he went down to Easewood with his bag
and portmanteau in a solitary compartment, and looked
out of the window upon a world in which every possible
congenial seemed either toiling in a situation or else look-
ing for one with a gnawing and hopelessly preoccupy-
ing anxiety. He stared out of the window at the ex-
ploitation roads of suburbs, and rows of houses all very
much alike, either emphatically and impatiently TO LET
or full of rather busy unsocial people. Near Wimbledon
he had a glimpse of golf links, and saw two elderly gen-
tlemen who, had they chosen, might have been gentlemen
of grace and leisure, addressing themselves to smite little
hunted white balls great distances with the utmost bit-
terness and dexterity. Mr. Polly could not understand
Every road he remarked, as freshly as though he had
never observed it before, was bordered by inflexible pal-
ings or iron fences or severely disciplined hedges. He
wondered if perhaps abroad there might be beautifully
careless, unenclosed high roads. Perhaps after all the
best way of taking a holiday is to go abroad.
He was haunted by the memory of what was either a
half -forgotten picture or a dream; a carriage was drawn
up by the wayside and four beautiful people, two men
and two women graciously dressed, were dancing a
formal ceremonious dance full of bows and curtseys, to
ioo THE PIISTORY OF MR. POLLY
the music of a wandering fiddler they had encountered.
They had been driving one way and he walking another
a happy encounter with this obvious result. They
might have come straight out of happy Theleme, whose
motto is : " Do what thou wilt." The driver had taken
his two sleek horses out; they grazed unchallenged; and
he sat on a stone clapping time with his hands while the
fiddler played. The shade of the trees did not altogether
shut out the sunshine, the grass in the wood was lush
and full of still daffodils, the turf they danced on was
starred with daisies.
Mr. Polly, dear heart! firmly believed that things like
that could and did happen somewhere. Only it puzzled
him that morning that he never saw them happening.
Perhaps they happened south of Guilford. Perhaps they
happened in Italy. Perhaps they ceased to happen a
hundred years ago. Perhaps they happened just round
the corner on weekdays when all good Mr. Pollys are
safely shut up in shops. And so dreaming of delightful
impossibilities until his heart ached for them, he was
rattled along in the suburban train to Johnson's discreet
home and the briskly stimulating welcome of Mrs. John-
Mr. Polly translated his restless craving for joy and
leisure into Harold- Johnsonese by saying that he meant
to look about him for a bit before going into another situ-
ation. It was a decision Johnson very warmly approved.
MR. POLLY TAKES A VACATION 101
It was arranged that Mr. Polly should occupy his former
room and board with the Johnsons in consideration of a
weekly payment of eighteen shillings. And the next
morning Mr. Polly went out early and reappeared with
a purchase, a safety bicycle, which he proposed to study
and master in the sandy lane below the Johnson's house.
But over the struggles that preceded his mastery it is
humane to draw a veil.
And also Mr. Polly bought a number of books, Rabe-
lais for his own, and " The Arabian Nights," the works
of Sterne, a pile of " Tales from Blackwood," cheap in
a second-hand bookshop, the plays of William Shake-
speare, a second-hand copy of Belloc's " Road to Rome,"
an odd volume of " Purchas his Pilgrimes " and " The
Life and Death of Jason."
" Better get yourself a good book on bookkeeping,"
said Johnson, turning over perplexing pages.
A belated spring was now advancing with great
strides to make up for lost time. Sunshine and a stir-
ring wind were poured out over the land, fleets of tower-
ing clouds sailed upon urgent tremendous missions across
the blue seas of heaven, and presently Mr. Polly was rid-
ing a little unstably along unfamiliar Surrey roads, won-
dering always what was round the next corner, and
marking the blackthorn and looking out for the first
white flowerbuds of the may. He was perplexed and
distressed, as indeed are all right thinking souls, that
there is no may in early May.
He did not ride at the even pace sensible people use
102 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
who have marked out a journey from one place to an-
other, and settled what time it will take them. He rode
at variable speeds, and always as though he was looking
for something that, missing, left life attractive still, but a
little wanting in significance. And sometimes he was so
unreasonably happy he had to whistle and sing, and
sometimes he was incredibly, but not at all painfully,
sad. His indigestion vanished with air and exercise, and
it was quite pleasant in the evening to stroll about the
garden with Johnson and discuss plans for the future.
Johnson was full of ideas. Moreover, Mr. Polly had
marked the road that led to Stamton, that rising populous
suburb; and as his bicycle legs grew strong his wheel
with a sort of inevitableness carried him towards the row
of houses in a back street in which his Larkins cousins
made their home together.
He was received with great enthusiasm.
The street was a dingy little street, a cul-de-sac of very
small houses in a row, each with an almost flattened bow
window and a blistered brown door with a black knocker.
He poised his bright new bicycle against the window,
and knocked and stood waiting, and felt himself in his
straw hat and black serge suit a very pleasant and pros-
perous-looking figure. The door was opened by cousin
Miriam. She was wearing a bluish print dress that
brought out a kind of sallow warmth in her skin, and
although it was nearly four o'clock in the afternoon, her
sleeves were tucked up, as if for some domestic work,
above the elbows, showing her rather slender but very
MR. POLLY TAKES A VACATION 103
shapely yellowish arms. The loosely pinned bodice con-
fessed a delicately rounded neck.
For a moment she regarded him with suspicion and a
faint hostility, and then recognition dawned in her eyes.
" Why ! " she said, " it's cousin Elfrid ! "
" Thought I'd look you up," he said.
" Fancy ! you coming to see us like this ! " she an-
They stood confronting one another for a moment,
while Miriam collected herself for the unexpected emer-
" Exploratious menanderings," said Mr. Polly, indi-
cating the bicycle.
Miriam's face betrayed no appreciation of the remark.
" Wait a moment," she said, coming to a rapid de-
cision, " and I'll tell Ma."
She closed the door on him abruptly, leaving him a
little surprised in the street. " Ma 1 " he heard her call-
ing, and swift speech followed, the import of which he
didn't catch. Then she reappeared. It seemed but an in-
stant, but she was changed ; the arms had vanished into
sleeves, the apron had gone, a certain pleasing disorder
of the hair had been at least reproved.
" I didn't mean to shut you out," she said, coming out
upon the step. " I just told Ma. How are you, Elfrid?
You are looking well. I didn't know you rode a bicycle.
Is it a new one?"
She leaned upon his bicycle. " Bright it is ! " she said,
" What a trouble you must have to keep it clean ! "
104 THE HISTORY. OF MR. POLLY
Mr. Polly was aware of a rustling transit along the
passage, and of the house suddenly full of hushed but
" It's plated mostly," said Mr. Polly.
" What do you carry in that little bag thing ? " she
asked, and then branched off to : " We're all in a mess
to-day you know. It's my cleaning up day to-day. I'm
not a bit tidy I know, but I do like to 'ave a go in at
things now and then. You got to take us as you find us,
Elfrid. Mercy we wasn't all out." She paused. She
was talking against time. " I am glad to see you again,"
" Couldn't keep away," said Mr. Polly gallantly. " Had
to come over and see my pretty cousins again."
Miriam did not answer for a moment. She coloured
deeply. " You do say things ! " she said.
She stared at Mr. Polly, and his unfortunate sense of
fitness made him nod his head towards her, regard her
firmly with a round brown eye, and add impressively:
" I don't say which of them."
Her answering expression made him realise for an in-
stant the terrible dangers he trifled with. Avidity flared
up in her eyes. Minnie's voice came happily to dissolve
" 'Ello, Elfrid ! " she said from the doorstep.
Her hair was just passably tidy, and she was a little
effaced by a red blouse, but there was no mistaking the
genuine brightness of her welcome.
He was to come in to tea, and Mrs. Larkins, exuber-
MR. POLLY TAKES A VACATION 105
antly genial in a floriferous but dingy flannel dressing
gown, appeared to confirm that. He brought in his bi-
cycle and put it in the narrow, empty passage, and every-
one crowded into a small untidy kitchen, whose table had
been hastily cleared of the debris of the midday repast.
" You must come in 'ere," said Mrs. Larkins, " for
Miriam's turning out the front room. I never did see such
a girl for cleanin' up. Miriam's 'oliday's a scrub. You've
caught us on the 'Op as the sayin' is, but Welcome all
the same. Pity Annie's at work to-day; she won't be
'ome till seven."
Miriam put chairs and attended to the fire, Minnie
edged up to Mr. Polly and said : " I am glad to see you
again, Elfrid," with a warm contiguous intimacy that
betrayed a broken tooth. Mrs. Larkins got out tea
things, and descanted on the noble simplicity of their
lives, and how he " mustn't mind our simple ways."
They enveloped Mr. Polly with a geniality that intoxi-
cated his amiable nature; he insisted upon helping lay
the things, and created enormous laughter by pretending
not to know where plates and knives and cups ought to
go. " Who'm I going to sit next ? " he said, and devel-
oped voluminous amusement by attempts to arrange the
plates so that he could rub elbows with all three. Mrs.
Larkins had to sit down in the Windsor chair by the
grandfather clock (which was dark with dirt and not
going) to laugh at her ease at his well-acted per-
They got seated at last, and Mr. Polly struck a vein of
106 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
humour in telling them how he learnt to ride the bicycle.
He found the mere repetition of the word " wabble "
sufficient to produce almost inextinguishable mirth.
"' No foreseeing little accidentulous misadventures," he
said, " none whatever."
(Giggle from Minnie.)
" Stout elderly gentleman shirt sleeves large straw
wastepaper basket sort of hat starts to cross the road
going to the oil shop prodic refreshment of oil can "
" Don't say you run 'im down," said Mrs. Larkins,
gasping. " Don't say you run 'im down, Elf rid! "
" Run 'im down ! Not me, Madam. I never run any-
thing down. Wabble. Ring the bell. Wabble, wab-
(Laughter and tears.)
" No one's going to run him down. Hears the bell !
Wabble. Gust of wind. Off comes the hat smack into
the wheel. Wabble. Lord! what's going to happen?
Hat across the road, old gentleman after it, bell, shriek.
He ran into me. Didn't ring his bell, hadn't got a bell
just ran into me. Over I went clinging to his venerable
head. Down he went with me clinging to him. Oil can
blump, blump into the road."
(Interlude while Minnie is attended to for crumb in
" Well, what happened to the old man with the oil
can?" said Mrs. Larkins.
" We sat about among the debreece and had a bit of
an argument. I told him he oughtn't to come out wear-
MR. POLLY TAKES A VACATION 107
ing such a dangerous hat flying at things. Said if he
couldn't control his hat he ought to leave it at home.
High old jawbacious argument we had, I tell you. ' I
tell you, sir ' ' I tell you, sir.' Waw-waw-waw. In-
furiacious. But that's the sort of thing that's constantly
happening you know on a bicycle. People run into
you, hens and cats and dogs and things. Everything
seems to have its mark on you ; everything."
" Yon never run into anything."
" Never. Swelpme," said Mr. Polly very solemnly.
" Never, 'E say ! " squealed Minnie. " Hark at 'im ! "
and relapsed into a condition that urgently demanded
back thumping. " Don't be so silly," said Miriam, thump-
Mr. Polly had never been such a social success before.
They hung upon his every word and laughed. What a
family they were for laughter! And he loved laughter.
The background he apprehended dimly ; it was very much
the sort of background his life had always had. There
was a threadbare tablecloth on the table, and the slop
basin and teapot did not go with the cups and saucers,
the plates were different again, the knives worn down,
the butter lived in a greenish glass dish of its own. Be-
hind was a dresser hung with spare and miscellaneous
crockery, with a workbox and an untidy work-basket,
there was an ailing musk plant in the window, and the
tattered and blotched wallpaper was covered by bright-
coloured grocers' almanacs. Feminine wrappings hung
from pegs upon the door, and the floor was covered with
io8 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
a varied collection of fragments of oilcloth. The wind-
sor chair he sat in was unstable which presently af-
forded material for humour. " Steady, old nag," he
said ; " whoa, my friskiacious palfry ! "
" The things he says ! You never know what he won't
say next ! "
" You ain't talkin' of goin' ! " cried Mrs. Larkins.
" Supper at eight."
" Stay to supper with us, now you 'ave come over,"
said Mrs. Larkins, with corroborating cries from Minnie.
" 'Ave a bit of a walk with the gals, and then come
back to supper. You might all go and meet Annie while
I straighten up, and lay things out."
" You're not to go touching the front room mind,"
"Who's going to touch yer front room?" said Mrs.
Larkins, apparently forgetful for a moment of Mr. Polly.
Both girls dressed with some care while Mrs. Larkins
sketched the better side of their characters, and then the
three young people went out to see something of Stamton.
In the streets their risible mood gave way to a self-con-
scious propriety that was particularly evident in Miriam's
bearing. They took Mr. Polly to the Stamton Wreck-
ery-ation ground that at least was what they called it
with its handsome custodian's cottage, its asphalt paths,
its Jubilee drinking fountain, its clumps of wallflower
MR. POLLY. TAKES 'A VACATION 109
and daffodils, and so to the new cemetery and a distant
view of the Surrey hills, and round by the gasworks to
the canal to the factory, that presently disgorged a sur-
prised and radiant Annie.
"El-lo!" said Annie.
It is very pleasant to every properly constituted mind
to be a centre of amiable interest for one's fellow
creatures, and when one is a young man conscious of be-
coming mourning and a certain wit, and the fellow
creatures are three young and ardent and sufficiently
expressive young women who dispute for the honour of
walking by one's side, one may be excused a secret ex-
altation. They did dispute.
" I'm going to 'ave 'im now," sa'id Annie. " You
two've been 'aving 'im all the afternoon. Besides, I've
got something to say to him."
She had something to say to him. It came presently.
" I say," she said abruptly. " I did get them rings out
of a prize packet."
" What rings? " asked Mr. Polly.
"What you saw at your poor father's funeral. You
made out they meant something. They didn't straight."
" Then some people have been very remiss about their
chances," said Mr. Polly, understanding.
" They haven't had any chances," said Annie. " I
don't believe in making oneself too free with people."
" Nor me," said Mr. Polly.
" I may be a bit larky and cheerful in my manner,"
no THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
Annie admitted. " But it don't mean anything. I ain't
" Right O," said Mr. Polly.
It was past ten when Mr. Polly found himself riding
back towards Easewood in a broad moonlight with
a little Japanese lantern dangling from his handle bar
and making a fiery circle of pinkish light on and round
about his front wheel. He was mightily pleased with
himself and the day. There had been four-ale to drink
at supper mixed with gingerbeer, very free and jolly in a
jug. No shadow fell upon the agreeable excitement of
his mind until he faced the anxious and reproachful face
of Johnson, who had been sitting up for him, smoking
and trying to read the odd volume of " Purchas his Pil-
grimes," about the monk who went into Sarmatia and'
saw the Tartar carts.
" Not had an accident, Elfrid?" said Johnson.
The weakness of Mr. Polly's character came out in
his reply. " Not much," he said. " Pedal got a bit loose
in Stamton, O' Man. Couldn't ride it. So I looked up
the cousins while I waited."
Johnson yawned hugely and asked for and was given
friendly particulars. " Well," he said, " better get to
bed. I have been reading that book of yours rum stuff.
MR. POLLY TAKES A VACATION in
Can't make it out quite. Quite out of date I should
say if you asked me."
" That's all right, O' Man," said Mr. Polly.
" Not a bit of use for anything I can see."
" Not a bit."
" See any shops in Stamton ? "
" Nothing to speak of," said Mr. Polly. " Goo-night,
Before and after this brief conversation his mind ran
on his cousins very warmly and prettily in the vein of
high spring. Mr. Polly had been drinking at the poisoned
fountains of English literature, fountains so unsuited to
the needs of a decent clerk or shopman, fountains
charged with the dangerous suggestion that it becomes
a man 01 gaiety and spirit to make love, gallantly and
rather carelessly. It seemed to him that evening to be
handsome and humorous and practicable to make love to
all his cousins. It wasn't that he liked any of them par-
ticularly, but he liked something about them. He liked
their youth and femininity, their resolute high spirits
and their interest in him.
They laughed at nothing and knew nothing, and Min-
nie had lost a tooth and Annie screamed and shouted,
but they were interesting, intensely interesting.
And Miriam wasn't so bad as the others. He had
kissed them all and had been kissed in addition several
times by Minnie, " oscoolatory exercise."
He buried his nose in his pillow and went to sleep
to dream of anything rather than getting on in the world,
ii2 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
as a sensible young man in his position ought to have
And now Mr. Polly began to lead a divided life. With
the Johnsons he professed to be inclined, but not so con-
clusively inclined as to be inconvenient, to get a shop for
himself, to be, to use the phrase he preferred, " looking
for an opening." He would ride off in the afternoon
upon that research, remarking that he was going to " cast
a strategetical eye " on Chertsey or Weybridge. But if
not all roads, still a great majority of them, led by how-
ever devious ways to Stamton, and to laughter and in-
creasing familiarity. Relations developed with Annie
and Minnie and Miriam. Their various characters were
increasingly interesting. The laughter became percept-
ibly less abundant, something of the fizz had gone from
the first opening, still these visits remained wonderfully
friendly and upholding. Then back he would come to
grave but evasive discussions with Johnson.
Johnson was really anxious to get Mr. Polly "into
something." His was a reserved honest character, and
he would really have preferred to see his lodger doing
things for himself than receive his money for house-
keeping. He hated waste, anybody's waste, much more
than he desired profit. But Mrs. Johnson was all for
Mr. Polly's loitering. She seemed much the more human
and likeable of the two to Mr. Polly.
He tried at times to work up enthusiasm for the
MR. POLLY TAKES A VACATION 113
various avenues to well-being his discussion with John-
son opened. But they remained disheartening prospects.
He imagined himself wonderfully smartened up, acquir-
ing style and value in a London shop, but the picture was
stiff and unconvincing. He tried to rouse himself to
enthusiasm by the idea of his property increasing by
leaps and bounds, by twenty pounds a year or so, let
us say, each year, in a well-placed little shop, the corner
shop Johnson favoured. There was a certain pictur-
esque interest in imagining cut-throat economies, but his
heart told him there would be little in practising them.
And then it happened to Mr. Polly that real Romance
came out of dreamland into life, and intoxicated and
gladdened him with sweetly beautiful suggestions and
left him. She came and left him as that dear lady leaves
so many of us, alas! not sparing him one jot or one tittle
of the hollowness of her retreating aspect.
It was all the more to Mr. Polly's taste that the thing
should happen as things happen in books.
In a resolute attempt not to get to Stamton that day,
he had turned due southward from Easewood towards a
country where the abundance of bracken jungles, lady's
smock, stitchwork, bluebells and grassy stretches by the
wayside under shady trees does much to compensate the
lighter type of mind for the absence of promising " open-
ings." He turned aside from the road, wheeled his ma-
chine along a faintly marked attractive trail through
bracken until he came to a heap of logs against a high
old stone wall with a damaged coping and wallflower
ii4 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
plants already gone to seed. He sat down, balanced the
straw hat on a convenient lump of wood, lit a cigarette,
and abandoned himself to agreeable musings and the
friendly observation of a cheerful little brown and grey
bird his stillness presently encouraged to approach him.
" This is All Right," said Mr. Polly softly to the little
brown and grey bird. " Business later."
He reflected that he might go on this way for four or
five years, and then be scarcely worse off than he had
been in his father's lifetime.
" Vile Business," said Mr. Polly.
Then Romance appeared. Or to be exact, Romance
Romance began as a series of small but increasingly
vigorous movements on the other side of the wall, then
as a voice murmuring, then as a falling of little fragments
on the hither side and as ten pink finger tips, scarcely
apprehended before Romance became startling and em-
phatically a leg, remained for a time a fine, slender, ac-
tively struggling limb, brown stockinged and wearing a
brown toe-worn shoe, and then . A handsome red-
haired girl wearing a short dress of blue linen was sit-
ting astride the wall, panting, considerably disarranged
by her climbing, and as yet unaware of Mr. Polly. . . .
His fine instincts made him turn his head away and
assume an attitude of negligent contemplation, with his
ears and mind alive to every sound behind him.
" Goodness ! " said a voice with a sharp note of sur-
MR. POLLY TAKES A VACATION 115
Mr. Polly was on his feet in an instant. " Dear me !
Can I be of any assistance ? " he said with deferential gal-
" I don't know," said the young lady, and regarded
him calmly with clear blue eyes.
" I didn't know there was anyone here," she added.
" Sorry," said Mr. Polly, " if I am intrudaceous. I
didn't know you didn't want me to be here."
She reflected for a moment on the word.
" It isn't that," she said, surveying him.
" I oughtn't to get over the wall," she explained. " It's
out of bounds. At least in term time. But this being
Her manner placed the matter before him.
" Holidays is different," said Mr. Polly.
" I don't want to actually break the rules," she
" Leave them behind you," said Mr. Polly with a catch
of the breath, " where they are safe ; " and marvelling
at his own wit and daring, and indeed trembling within
himself, he held out a hand for her.
She brought another brown leg from the unknown, and
arranged her skirt with a dexterity altogether feminine.
"I think I'll stay on the wall," she decided. " So longi
as some of me's in bounds "
She continued to regard him with eyes that presently
joined dancing in an irresistible smile of satisfaction
Mr. Polly smiled in return.
" You bicycle ? " she said.
n6 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY,
Mr. Polly admitted the fact, and she said she did too.
" All my people are in India," she explained. " It's
beastly rot I mean it's frightfully dull being left here
" All my people," said Mr. Polly, " are in Heaven ! "
" Fact ! " said Mr. Polly. " Got nobody."
" And that's why " she checked her artless com-
ment on his mourning. " I say," she said in a sym-
pathetic voice, " I am sorry. I really am. Was it a fire
or a ship or something? "
Her sympathy was very delightful. He shook his
head. " The ordinary table of mortality," he said. " First
one and then another."
Behind his outward melancholy, delight was dancing
wildly. " Are you lonely ? " asked the girl.
Mr. Polly nodded.
" I was just sitting there in melancholy rectrospecta-
tiousness," he said, indicating the logs, and again a swift
thought fulness swept across her face.
" There's no harm in our talking," she reflected.
" It's a kindness. Won't you get down? "
She reflected, and surveyed the turf below and the
scene around and him.
" I'll stay on the wall," she said. " If only for bounds'
She certainly looked quite adorable on the wall. She
had a fine neck and pointed chin that was particularly
admirable from below, and pretty eyes and fine eyebrows
MR. POLLY TAKES A VACATION 117
are never so pretty as when they look down upon one.
But no calculation of that sort, thank Heaven, was going
on beneath her ruddy shock of hair.
" Let's talk," she said, and for a time they were both
Mr. Polly's literary proclivities had taught him that
under such circumstances a strain of gallantry was de-
manded. And something in his blood repeated that les-
" You make me feel like one of those old knights,"
he said. " Who rode about the country looking for
dragons and beautiful maidens and chivalresque ad-
" Oh !" she said. "Why?"
" Beautiful maiden," he said.
She flushed under her freckles with the quick bright
flush those pretty red-haired people have. " Nonsense ! "
" You are. I'm not the first to tell you that. A beau-
tiful maiden imprisoned in an enchanted school."
" You wouldn't think it enchanted ! "
" And here am I clad in steel. Well, not exactly, but
my fiery war horse is anyhow. Ready to absquatulate all
the dragons and rescue you."
She laughed, a jolly laugh that showed delightfully
gleaming teeth. " I wish you could see the dragons,"
n8 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
she said with great enjoyment. Mr. Polly felt they were
a sun's distance from the world of everyday.
" Fly with me ! " he dared.
She stared for a moment, and then went off into peals
of laughter. " You are funny ! " she said. " Why, I
haven't known you five minutes."
" One doesn't in this medevial world. My mind is
made up, anyhow."
He was proud and pleased with his joke, and quick
to change his key neatly. " I wish one could," he
" I wonder if people ever did! "
" If there were people like you."
" We don't even know each other's names," she re-
marked with a descent to matters of fact.
" Yours is the prettiest name in the world."
" How do you know ? "
" It must be anyhow."
" It is rather pretty you know it's Christabel."
"What did I tell you?"
" Poorer than I deserve. It's Alfred."
" / can't call you Alfred."
"It's a girl's name!"
For a moment he was out of tune. " I wish it was ! "
he said, and could have bitten out his tongue at the Lar-
kins sound of it.
" I shan't forget it," she remarked consolingly.
MR. POLLY TAKES A VACATION 119
" I say," she said in the pause that followed. " Why
are you riding about the country on a bicycle? "
" I'm doing it because I like it."
She sought to estimate his social status on her limited
basis of experience. He stood leaning with one hand
against the wall, looking up at her and tingling with
daring thoughts. He was a littleish man, you must re-
member, but neither mean-looking nor unhandsome in
those days, sunburnt by his holiday and now warmly
flushed. He had an inspiration to simple speech that
no practised trifler with love could have bettered. " There
is love at first sight," he said, and said it sincerely.
She stared at him with eyes round and big with excite-
" I think," she said slowly, and without any signs of
fear or retreat, " I ought to get back over the wall."
" It needn't matter to you," he said. " I'm just a no-
body. But I know you are the best and most beautiful
thing I've ever spoken to." His breath caught against
something. " No harm in telling you that," he said.
" I should have to go back if I thought you were seri-
ous," she said after a pause, and they both smiled to-
After that they talked in a fragmentary way for some
time. The blue eyes surveyed Mr. Polly with kindly
curiosity from under a broad, finely modelled brow, much
as an exceptionally intelligent cat might survey a new
sort of dog. She meant to find out all about him. She
asked questions that riddled the honest knight in armour
120 THE HISTORY. OF. MR. POLLY
below, and probed ever nearer to the hateful secret of
the shop and his normal servitude. And when he made
a flourish and mispronounced a word a thoughtful shade
passed like the shadow of a cloud across her face.
" Boom ! " came the sound of a gong.
" Lordy ! " cried the girl and flashed a pair of brown
legs at him and was gone.
Then her pink finger tips reappeared, and the top of
her red hair. " Knight ! " she cried from the other side
of the wall. " Knight there ! "
" Lady ! " he answered.
" Come again to-morrow ! "
"At your command. But "
" Just one finger."
" What do you mean ? "
The rustle of retreating footsteps and silence. . . .
But after he had waited next day for twenty minutes
she reappeared, a little out of breath with the effort to
surmount the wall and head first this time. And it
seemed to him she was lighter and more daring and al-
together prettier than the dreams and enchanted mem-
ories that had filled the interval.
From first to last their acquaintance lasted ten days,
but into that time Mr. Polly packed ten years of dreams.
MR. POLLY TAKES A VACATION 121
" He don't seem," said Johnson, " to take a serious
interest in anything. That shop at the corner's bound to
be snapped up if he don't look out."
The girl and Mr. Polly did not meet on every one of
those ten days ; one was Sunday and she could not come,
and on the eighth the school reassembled and she made
vague excuses. All their meetings amounted to this,
that she sat on the wall, more or less in bounds as she
expressed it, and let Mr. Polly fall in love with her and
try to express it below. She sat in a state of irrespon-
sible exaltation, watching him and at intervals prodding
a vivisecting point of encouragement into him with that
strange passive cruelty which is natural to her sex and
And Mr. Polly fell in love, as though the world had
given way beneath him and he had dropped through into
another, into a world of luminous clouds and of desolate
hopeless wildernesses of desiring and of wild valleys of
unreasonable ecstasies, a world whose infinite miseries
were finer and in some inexplicable way sweeter than the
purest gold of the daily life, whose joys they were in-
deed but the merest remote glimpses of joy were
brighter than a dying martyr's vision of heaven. Her
smiling face looked down upon him out of heaven, her
careless pose was the living body of life. It was sense-
less, it was utterly foolish, but all that was best and rich-
est in Mr. Polly's nature broke like a wave and foamed
up at that girl's feet, and died, and never touched her.
And she sat on the wall and marvelled at him and was
122 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
amused, and once, suddenly moved and wrung by his
pleading, she bent down rather shamefacedly and gave
him a freckled, tennis-blistered little paw to kiss. And
she looked into his eyes and suddenly felt a perplexity, a
curious swimming of the mind that made her recoil and
stiffen, and wonder afterwards and dream. . . .
And then with some dim instinct of self-protection, she
went and told her three best friends, great students of
character all, of this remarkable phenomenon she had
discovered on the other side of the wall.
" Look here," said Mr. Polly, " I'm wild for the love
of you ! I can't keep up this gesticulations game any
more! I'm not a Knight. Treat me as a human man.
You may sit up there smiling, but I'd die in torments to
have you mine for an hour. I'm nobody and nothing.
But look here ! Will you wait for me for five years ?
You're just a girl yet, and it wouldn't be hard."
" Shut up ! " said Christabel in an aside he did not
hear, and something he did not see touched her hand.
" I've always been just dilletentytating about till now,
but I could work. I've just woke up. Wait till I've got a
chance with the money I've got."
" But you haven't got much money ! "
" I've got enough to take a chance with, some sort of
a chance. I'd find a chance. I'll do that anyhow. I'll go
away. I mean what I say I'll stop trifling and shirking.
If I don't come back it won't matter. If I do
Her expression had become uneasy. Suddenly she
bent down towards him.
MR. POLLY TAKES A VACATION 123
" Don't ! " she said in an undertone.
" Don't go on like this ! You're different ! Go on be-
ing the knight who wants to kiss my hand as his what
did you call it ? " The ghost of a smile curved her face.
" Gurdrum ! "
Then through a pause they both stared at each other,
A muffled tumult on the other side of the wall asserted
" Shut up, Rosie ! " said a voice.
" I tell you I will see ! I can't half hear. Give me a
leg up ! "
" You Idiot ! He'll see you. You're spoiling every-
The bottom dropped out of Mr. Polly's world. He felt
as people must feel who are going to faint.
" You've got someone " he said aghast.
She found life inexpressible to Mr. Polly. She ad-
dressed some unseen hearers. " You filthy little Beasts ! "
she cried with a sharp note of agony in her voice, and
swung herself back over the wall and vanished. There
was a squeal of pain and fear, and a swift, fierce alterca-
For a couple of seconds he stood agape.
Then a wild resolve to confirm his worst sense of what
was on the other side of the wall made him seize a log,
put it against the stones, clutch the parapet with inse-
124 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
cure fingers, and lug himself to a momentary balance on
Romance and his goddess had vanished.
A red-haired girl with a pigtail was wringing the
wrist of a schoolfellow who shrieked with pain and cried:
" Mercy ! mercy ! Ooo ! Christabel ! "
" You idiot ! " cried Christabel. " You giggling
Idiot ! "
Two other young ladies made off through the beech
trees from this outburst of savagery.
Then the grip of Mr. Polly's fingers gave, and he hit
his chin against the stones and slipped clumsily to the
ground again, scraping his cheek against the wall and
hurting his shin against the log by which he had reached
the top. Just for a moment he crouched against the wall.
He swore, staggered to the pile of logs and sat down.
He remained very still for some time, with his lips
" Fool," he said at last ; " you Blithering Fool ! " and
began to rub his shin as though he had just discovered its
Afterwards he found his face was wet with blood
which was none the less red stuff from the heart because
it came from slight abrasions.
CHAPTER THE SIXTH
IT is an illogical consequence of one human being's
ill-treatment that we should fly immediately to
another, but that is the way with us. It seemed
to Mr. Polly that only a human touch could assuage the
smart of his humiliation. Moreover it had for some un-
defined reason to be a feminine touch, and the number
of women in his world was limited.
He thought of the Larkins family the Larkins whom
he had not been near now for ten long days. Healing
people they seemed to him now healing, simple people.
They had good hearts, and he had neglected them for a
mirage. If he rode over to them he would be able to talk
nonsense and laugh and forget the whirl of memories
and thoughts that was spinning round and round so un-
endurably in his brain.
" Law ! " said Mrs. Larkins, " come in ! You're quite
a stranger, Elfrid ! "
" Been seeing to business," said the unveracious
" None of 'em ain't at 'ome, but Miriam's just out to
128 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY,
do a bit of shopping. Won't let me shop, she won't, be-
cause I'm so keerless. She's a wonderful manager, that
girl. Minnie's got some work at the carpet place. 'Ope
it won't make 'er ill again. She's a loving deliket sort,
is Minnie. . . . Come into the front parlour. It's a
bit untidy, but you got to take us as you find us. Wot
you been doing to your face ? "
" Bit of a scrase with the bicycle," said Mr. Polly.
" Trying to pass a carriage on the on side, and he drew
up and ran me against a wall."
Mrs. Larkins scrutinised it. " You ought to 'ave some-
one look after your scrases," she said. " That's all red
and rough. It ought to be cold-creamed. Bring your
bicycle into the passage and come in."
She " straightened up a bit," that is to say she increased
the dislocation of a number of scattered articles, put a
workbasket on the top of several books, swept two or
three dogs'-eared numbers of the Lady's Own Novelist
from the table into the broken armchair, and proceeded
to sketch together the tea-things with various such inter-
polations as : " Law, if I ain't forgot the butter ! " All the
while she talked of Annie's good spirits and cleverness
with her millinery, and of Minnie's affection and Mir-
iam's relative love of order and management. Mr. Polly
stood by the window uneasily and thought how good and
sincere was the Larkins tone. It was well to be back
" You're a long time finding that shop of yours," said
" Don't do to be precipitous," said Mr. Polly.
" No," said Mrs. Larkins, " once you got it you got it.
Like choosing a 'usband. You better see you got it good.
I kept Larkins 'esitating two years I did, until I felt sure
of him. A 'ansom man 'e was as you can see by the
looks of the girls, but 'ansom is as 'ansom does. You'd
like a bit of jam to your tea, I expect? I 'ope they'll
keep their men waiting when the time comes. I tell them
if they think of marrying it only shows they don't know
when they're well off. Here's Miriam'!"
Miriam entered with several parcels in a net, and a
peevish expression. " Mother," she said, " you might
'ave prevented my going out with the net with the broken
handle. I've been cutting my fingers with the string all
the way 'ome." Then she discovered Mr. Polly and
her face brightened.
" Ello, Elf rid! " she said. " Where you been all this
" Looking round," said Mr. Polly.
" Found a shop ? "
" One or two likely ones. But it takes time."
" You've got the wrong cups, Mother."
She went into the kitchen, disposed of her purchases,
and returned with the right cups. "What you done to
your face, Elfrid?" she asked, and came and scrutinised
his scratches. " All rough it is."
130 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
He repeated his story of the accident, and she was
sympathetic in a pleasant homely way.
" You are quiet to-day," she said as they sat down to
" Meditatious," said Mr. Polly.
Quite by accident he touched her hand on the table,
and she answered his touch.
" Why not ? " thought Mr. Polly, and looking up,
caught Mrs. Larkins' eye and flushed guiltily. But Mrs.
Larkins, with unusual restraint, said nothing. She
merely made a grimace, enigmatical, but in its essence
Presently Minnie came in with some vague grievance
against the manager of the carpet-making place about
his method of estimating piece work. Her account was
redundant, defective and highly technical, but redeemed
by a certain earnestness. " I'm never within sixpence of
what I reckon to be," she said. " It's a bit too 'ot."
Then Mr. Polly, feeling that he was being conspicuously
dull, launched into a description of the shop he was look-
ing for and the shops he had seen. His mind warmed up
as he talked.
" Found your tongue again," said Mrs. Larkins.
He had. He began to embroider the subject and work
upon it. For the first time it assumed picturesque and
desirable qualities in his mind. It stimulated him to see
how readily and willingly they accepted his sketches.
Bright ideas appeared in his mind from nowhere. He
was suddenly enthusiastic.
" When I get this shop of mine I shall have a cat.
Must make a home for a cat, you know."
" What, to catch the mice? ' said Mrs. Larkins.
" No sleep in the window. A venerable signer of a
cat. Tabby. Cat's no good if it isn't tabby. Cat I'm
going to have, and a canary ! Didn't think of that before,
but a cat and a canary seem to go, you know. Summer
weather I shall sit at breakfast in the little room behind
the shop, sun streaming in the window to rights, cat on
a chair, canary singing and Mrs. Polly. . . ."
" Ello ! " said Mrs. Larkins.
" Mrs. Polly frying an extra bit of bacon. Bacon
singing, cat singing, canary singing". Kettle singing.
Mrs. Polly "
" But who's Mrs. Polly going to be ? " said Mrs. Lar-
" Figment of the imagination, ma'am," said Mr. Polly.
" Put in to fill up picture. No face to figure as yet.
Still, that's how it will be, I can assure you. I think I
must have a bit of garden. Johnson's the man for a
garden of course," he said, going off at a tangent, " but
I don't mean a fierce sort of garden. Earnest industry^
Anxious moments. Fervous digging. Shan't go in for
that sort of garden, ma'am. No! Too much back-
ache for me. My garden will be just a patch of 'stur-
tiums and sweet pea. Red brick yard, clothes' line.
Trellis put up in odd time. Humorous wind vane.
Creeper up the back of the house."
"Virginia creeper?" asked Miriam.
132 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY.
"Canary creeper," said Mr. Polly.
" You will 'ave it nice," said Miriam, desirously.
"Rather," said Mr. Polly. " Ting-a-ling-a-ling.
He straightened himself up and then they all
" Smart little shop," he said. " Counter. Desk. All
complete. Umbrella stand. Carpet on the floor. Cat
asleep on the counter. Ties and hose on a rail over the
counter. All right."
" I wonder you don't set about it right off," said
" Mean to get it exactly right, m'am," said Mr. Polly.
" Have to have a tomcat," said Mr. Polly, and paused
for an expectant moment. " Wouldn't do to open shop
one morning, you know, and find the window full of kit-
tens. Can't sell kittens. . . ."
When tea was over he was left alone with Minnie for
a few minutes, and an odd intimation of an incident
occurred that left Mr. Polly rather scared and shaken.
A silence fell between them an uneasy silence. He sat
with his elbows on the table looking at her. All the way
from Easewood to Stamton his erratic imagination had
been running upon neat ways of proposing marriage. I
don't know why it should have done, but it had. It
was a kind of secret exercise that had not had any defi-
nite aim at the time, but which now recurred to him
with extraordinary force. He couldn't think of any-
thing in the world that wasn't the gambit to a proposal,
It was almost irresistibly fascinating to think how im-
mensely a few words from him would excite and revolu-
tionise Minnie. She was sitting at the table with a work-
basket among the tea things, mending a glove in order to
avoid her share of clearing away.
" I like cats," said Minnie after a thoughtful pause.
" I'm always saying to mother, ' I wish we 'ad a cat.'
But we couldn't 'ave a cat 'ere not with no yard."
" Never had a cat myself," said Mr. Polly. " No ! "
" I'm fond of them," said Minnie.
" I like the look of them," said Mr. Polly. " Can't
exactly call myself fond."
" I expect I shall get one some day. When about you
get your shop."
" I shall have my shop all right before long," said
'Mr. Polly. " Trust me. Canary bird and all."
She shook her head. " I shall get a cat first," she
said. " You never mean anything you say."
" Might get 'em together," said Mr. Polly, with his
sense of a neat thing outrunning his discretion.
" Why ! 'ow d'you mean ? " said Minnie, suddenly
" Shop and cat thrown in," said Mr. Polly in spite of
himself, and his head swam and he broke out into a cold
sweat as he said it.
He found her eyes fixed on him with an eager expres-
sion. " Mean to say " she began as if for verifica-
tion. He sprang to his feet, and turned to the window.
" Little dog ! " he said, and moved doorward hastily.
134 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
" Eating my bicycle tire, I believe," he explained. And
He saw his bicycle in the hall and cut it dead.
He heard Mrs. Larkins in the passage behind him as
he opened the front door.
He turned to her. " Thought my bicycle was on fire,"
he said. " Outside. Funny fancy ! All right, reely.
Little dog outside. . . . Miriam ready?"
" To go and meet Annie."
Mrs. Larkins stared at him. " You're stopping for a
bit of supper? "
" If I may," said Mr. Polly.
" You're a rum un/' said Mrs. Larkins, and called :
" Miriam ! "
Minnie appeared at the door of the room looking infi-
nitely perplexed. " There ain't a little dog anywhere,
Elfrid," she said.
Mr. Polly passed his hand over his brow. " I had a
most curious sensation. Felt exactly as though something
was up somewhere. That's why I said Little Dog. All
He bent down and pinched his bicycle tire.
" You was saying something about a cat, Elfrid," said
" Give you one," he answered without looking up.
" The very day my shop is opened."
He straightened himself up and smiled reassuringly.
"Trust me," he said.
When, after imperceptible manoeuvres by Mrs. Larkins,
he found himself starting circuitously through the inevita-
ble recreation ground with Miriam to meet Annie, he
found himself quite unable to avoid the topic of the
shop that had now taken such a grip upon him. A sense
of danger only increased the attraction. Minnie's per-
sistent disposition to accompany them had been crushed
by a novel and violent and urgently expressed desire on
the part of Mrs. Larkins to see her do something in the
house sometimes. . . .
" You really think you'll open a shop ? " asked Miriam.
" I hate cribs," said Mr. Polly, adopting a moderate
tone. " In a shop there's this drawback and that, but
one is one's own master."
"That wasn't all talk?"
" Not a bit of it."
" After all," he went on, " a little shop needn't be so
" It's a 'ome," said Miriam.
" It's a home."
" There's no need to keep accounts and that sort of
thing if there's no assistant. I daresay I could run a
shop all right if I wasn't interfered with."
" I should like to see you in your shop," said Miriam.
" I expect you'd keep everything tremendously neat."
The conversation flagged.
136 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
" Let's sit down on one of those seats over there," said
Miriam. " Where we can see those blue flowers."
They did as she suggested, and sat down in a corner
where a triangular bed of stock and delphinium bright-
ened the asphalted traceries of the Recreation Ground.
" I wonder what they call those flowers," she said.
" I always like them. They're handsome."
" Delphicums and larkspurs," said Mr. Polly. " They
used to be in the park at Port Burdock."
" Floriferous corner," he added approvingly.
He put an arm over the back of the seat, and assumed
a more comfortable attitude. He glanced at Miriam,
who was sitting in a lax, thoughtful pose with her eyes
on the flowers. She was wearing her old dress, she had
not had time to change, and the blue tones of her old
dress brought out a certain warmth in her skin, and her
pose exaggerated whatever was feminine in her rather
lean and insufficient body, and rounded her flat chest
delusively. A little line of light lay along her profile.
The afternoon was full of transfiguring sunshine, chil-
dren were playing noisily in the adjacent sandpit, some
Judas trees were brightly abloom in the villa gardens
that bordered the Recreation Ground, and all the place
was bright with touches of young summer colour. It
all merged with the effect of Miriam in Mr. Polly's
Her thoughts found speech. " One did ought to be
happy in a shop," she said with a note of unusual softness
in her voice.
It seemed to him that she was right. One did ought
to be happy in a shop. Folly not to banish dreams that
made one ache of townless woods and bracken tangles
and red-haired linen-clad figures sitting in dappled sun-
shine upon grey and crumbling walls and looking queenly
down on one with clear blue eyes. Cruel and foolish
dreams they were, that ended in one's being laughed at
and made a mock of. There was no mockery here.
"A shop's such a respectable thing to be," said Miriam
"I could be happy in a shop," he said.
His sense of effect made him pause.
" If I had the right company," he added.
She became very still.
Mr. Polly swerved a little from the conversational ice-
run upon which he had embarked.
" I'm not such a blooming Geezer," he said, " as not
to be able to sell goods a bit. One has to be nosy
over one's buying of course. But I shall do all
He stopped, and felt falling, falling through the ach-
ing silence that followed.
" If you get the right company," said Miriam.
"I shall get that all right."
" You don't mean you've got someone "
He found himself plunging.
" I've got someone in my eye, this minute," he said.
" Elfrid ! " she said, turning on him. " You don't
138 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
Well, did he mean? " I do ! " he said.
" Not reely ! " She clenched her hands to keep still.
He took the conclusive step.
" Well, you and me, Miriam, in a little shop with a
cat and a canary ." He tried too late to get back to
a hypothetical note. " Just suppose it ! "
" You mean," said Miriam, " you're in love with me.
What possible answer can a man give to such a ques-
tion but "Yes!"
Regardless of the public park, the children in the sand-
pit and everyone, she bent forward and seized his shoul-
der and kissed him on the lips. Something lit up in Mr.
Polly at the touch. He put an arm about her and kissed
her back, and felt an irrevocable act was sealed. He
had a curious feeling that it would be very satisfying to
marry and have a wife only somehow he wished it
wasn't Miriam. Her lips were very pleasant to him, and
the feel of her in his arm.
They recoiled a little from each other and sat for a
moment, flushed and awkwardly silent. His mind was
altogether incapable of controlling its confusion.
" I didn't dream," said Miriam, " you cared .
Sometimes I thought it was Annie, sometimes Min-
" Always liked you better than them," said Mr.
" I loved you, Elfrid," said Miriam, " since ever we
met at your poor father's funeral. Leastways I would
have done, if I had thought. You didn't seem to mean
anything you said."
" I can't believe it ! " she added.
" Nor I," said Mr. Polly.
" You mean to marry me and start that little shop "
" Soon as ever I find it," said Mr. Polly.
" I had no more idea when I came out with you "
" It's like a dream."
They said no more for a little while.
" I got to pinch myself to think it's real," said Miriam.
" What they'll do without me at 'ome I can't imagine.
When I tell them "
For the life of him Mr. Polly could not tell whether
he was fullest of tender anticipations or regretful panic.
" Mother's no good at managing not a bit. Annie
don't care for 'ouse work and Minnie's got no 'ed for it.
What they'll do without me I can't imagine."
" They'll have to do without you," said Mr. Polly,
sticking to his guns.
A clock in the town began striking.
" Lor' ! " said Miriam, " we shall miss Annie sitting
'ere and love-making ! "
She rose and made as if to take Mr. Polly's arm. But
Mr. Polly felt that their condition must be nakedly ex-
posed to the ridicule of the world by such a linking, and
evaded her movement.
Annie was already in sight before a flood of hesitation
and terrors assailed Mr. Polly.
140 THE HISTORY OF. MR. POLLY.
" Don't tell anyone yet a bit," he said.
" Only mother," said Miriam firmly.
Figures are the most shocking things in the world. The
pettiest little squiggles of black looked at in the right
light, and yet consider the blow they can give you upon
the heart. You return from a little careless holiday
abroad, and turn over the page of a newspaper, and
against the name of that distant, vague-conceived rail-
way in mortgages upon which you have embarked the
bulk of your capital, you see instead of the familiar, per-
sistent 95-6 (varying at most to 93 ex. div.) this slightly
richer arrangement of marks: 76^-78^.
It is like the opening of a pit just under your feet!
So, too, Mr. Polly's happy sense of limitless resources
was obliterated suddenly by a vision of this tracery:
instead of the
he had come to regard as the fixed symbol of his afflu-
It gave him a disagreeable feeling about the dia-
phragm, akin in a remote degree to the sensation he had
when the perfidy of the red-haired schoolgirl became
plain to him. It made his brow moist.
" Going down a vortex ! " he whispered.
By a characteristic feat of subtraction he decided that
he must have spent sixty-two pounds.
" Funererial baked meats," he said, recalling possible
The happy dream in which he had been living of long
warm days, of open roads, of limitless unchecked hours,
of infinite time to look about him, vanished like a thing
enchanted. He was suddenly back in the hard old eco-
nomic world, that exacts work, that limits range, that dis-
courages phrasing and dispels laughter. He saw Wood
Street and its fearful suspenses yawning beneath his
And also he had promised to marry Miriam, and on
the whole rather wanted to.
He was distraught at supper. Afterwards, when Mrs.
Johnson had gone to bed with a slight headache, he
opened a conversation with Johnson.
" It's about time, O' Man, I saw about doing some-
thing," he said. " Riding about and looking at shops,
all very debonnairious, O' Man, but it's time I took one
"What did I tell you?" said Johnson.
" How do you think that corner shop of yours will
figure out?" Mr. Polly asked.
" You're really meaning it ? "
" If it's a practable proposition, O' Man. Assuming
it's practable. What's your idea of the figures ? "
Johnson went to the chiffonier, got out a letter and tore
off the back sheet. " Let's figure it out," he said with
142 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
solemn satisfaction. " Let's see the lowest you could
do it on."
He squared himself to the task, and Mr. Polly sat be-
side him like a pupil, watching the evolution of the grey,
distasteful figures that were to dispose of his little
" What running expenses have we got to provide for? "
said Johnson, wetting his pencil. " Let's have them first.
Rent? . . ."
At the end of an hour of hideous speculations, John-
son decided : " It's close. But you'll have a chance."
" M'm," said Mr. Polly. " What more does a brave
man want ? "
" One thing you can do quite easily. I've asked about
"What's that, O' Man?" said Mr. Polly.
" Take the shop without the house above it."
" I suppose I might put my head in to mind it," said
Mr. Polly, " and get a job with my body."
" Not exactly that. But I thought you'd save a lot
if you stayed on here being all alone as you are."
" Never thought of that, O' Man," said Mr. Polly,
and reflected silently upon the needlessness of Miriam.
" We were talking of eighty pounds for stock," said
Johnson. " Of course seventy-five is five pounds less,
isn't it? Not much else we can cut."
" No," said Mr. Polly.
" It's very interesting, all this," said Johnson, folding
up the half sheet of paper and unfolding it. " I wish
sometimes I had a business of my own instead of a
fixed salary. You'll have to keep books of course."
" One wants to know where one is."
" I should do it all by double entry," said Johnson.
" A little troublesome at first, but far the best in the
" Lemme see that paper," said Mr. Polly, and took
it with the feeling of a man who takes a nauseating medi-
cine, and scrutinised his cousin's neat figures with list-
" Well," said Johnson, rising and stretching. " Bed !
Better sleep on it, O' Man."
" Right O," said Mr. Polly without moving, but in-
deed he could as well have slept upon a bed of
He had a dreadful night. It was like the end of the
annual holiday, only infinitely worse. It was like a
newly arrived prisoner's backward glance at the trees
and heather through the prison gates. He had to go
back to harness, and he was as fitted to go in harness as
the ordinary domestic cat. All night, Fate, with the
quiet complacency, and indeed at times the very face and
gestures of Johnson, guided him towards that undesired
establishment at the corner near the station. " Oh
Lord ! " he cried, " I'd rather go back to cribs. I
should keep my money anyhow." Fate never winced.
" Run away to sea," whispered Mr. Polly, but he knew
he wasn't man enough.
" Cut my blooming throat."
144 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
Some braver strain urged him to think of Miriam, and
for a little while he lay still. . . .
" Well, O' Man ? " said Johnson, when Mr. Polly came
^down to breakfast, and Mrs. Johnson looked up brightly.
Mr. Polly had never felt breakfast so unattractive be-
"Just a day or so more, O' Man to turn it over in
.my mind," he said.
" You'll get the place snapped up," said Johnson.
There were times in those last few days of coyness
with his destiny when his engagement seemed the most
negligible of circumstances, and times and these hap-
pened for the most part at nights after Mrs. Johnson
had indulged everybody in a Welsh rarebit when it
assumed so sinister and portentous an appearance as to
make him think of suicide. And there were times too
when he very distinctly desired to be married, now that
the idea had got into his head, at any cost. Also he
tried to recall all the circumstances of his proposal, time
after time, and never quite succeeded in recalling what
had brought the thing off. He went over to Stamton
with a becoming frequency, and kissed all his cousins,
and Miriam especially, a great deal, and found it very
stirring and refreshing. They all appeared to know;
and Minnie was tearful, but resigned. Mrs. Larkins met
'him, and indeed enveloped him, with unwonted warmth,
and there was a big pot of household jam for tea. And
he could not make up his mind to sign his name to any-
thing about the shop, though it crawled nearer and nearer
to him, though the project had materialised now to the
extent of a draft agreement with the place for his signa-
ture indicated in pencil.
One morning, just after Mr. Johnson had gone to the
station, Mr. Polly wheeled his bicycle out into the road,
went up to his bedroom, packed his long white night-
dress, a comb, and a toothbrush in a manner that was as
offhand as he could make it, informed Mrs. Johnson,
who was manifestly curious, that he was " off for a
day or two to clear his head," and fled forthright into
the road, and mounting turned his wheel towards, the
tropics and the equator and the south coast of England,
and indeed more particularly to where the little village
of Fishbourne slumbers and sleeps.
When he returned four days later, he astonished John-
son beyond measure by remarking so soon as the shop
project was reopened:
" I've took a little contraption at Fishbourne, O' Man,
that I fancy suits me better."
He paused, and then added in a manner, if possible,
even more offhand:
" Oh ! and I'm going to have a bit of a nuptial over at
Stamton with one of the Larkins cousins."
" Nuptial ! " said Johnson.
" Wedding bells, O' Man. Benedictine collapse."
On the whole Johnson showed great self-control. " It's
your own affair, O' Man," he said, when things had beea
more clearly explained, " and I hope you won't feel
sorry when it's too late."
146 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
But Mrs. Johnson was first of all angrily silent, and
then reproachful. " I don't see what we've done to be
made fools of like this," she said " After all the trou-
ble we've 'ad to make you comfortable and see after
you. Out late and sitting up and everything. And
then you go off as sly as sly without a word, and get a
shop behind our backs as though you thought we meant
to steal your money. I 'aven't patience with such deceit-
fulness, and I didn't think it of you, Elfrid. And now;
the letting season's 'arf gone by, and what I shall do with
that room of yours I've no idea. Frank is frank, and
fair play fair play; so / was told any'ow when I was a
girl. Just as long as it suits you to stay 'ere you stay
'ere, and then it's off and no thank you whether we like
it or not. Johnson's too easy with you. 'E sits there
and doesn't say a word, and night after night Vs been
addin' and thinkin' for you, instead of seeing to his
own affairs "
She paused for breath.
" Unfortunate amoor," said Mr. Polly, apologetically
and indistinctly. " Didn't expect it myself."
Mr. Polly's marriage followed with a certain inevita-
He tried to assure himself that he was acting upon
his own forceful initiative, but at the back of his mind
was the completest realisation of his powerlessness to
resist the gigantic social forces he had set in motion.
He had got to marry under the will of society, even as
in times past it has been appointed for other sunny souls
under the will of society that they should be led out by
serious and unavoidable fellow-creatures and ceremoni-
ously drowned or burnt or hung. He would have pre-
'ferred infinitely a more observant and less conspicuous
role, but the choice was no longer open to him. He
'did his best to play his part, and he procured some partic-
ularly neat check trousers to do it in. The rest of his
costume, except for some bright yellow gloves, a grey and
blue mixture tie, and that the broad crape hat-band was
changed for a livelier piece of silk, were the things he
had worn at the funeral of his father. So nearly akin
are human joy and sorrow.
The Larkins sisters had done wonders with grey
sateen. The idea of orange blossom and white veils
had been abandoned reluctantly on account of the ex-
pense of cabs. A novelette in which the heroine had
stood at the altar in " a modest going-away dress " had
materially assisted this decision. Miriam was frankly
tearful, and so indeed was Annie, but with laughter as
well to carry it off. Mr. Polly heard Annie say some-
thing vague about never getting a chance because of
Miriam always sticking about at home like a cat at a
mouse-hole, that became, as people say, food for thought.
Mrs. Larkins was from the first flushed, garrulous, and
wet and smeared by copious weeping; an incredibly
soaked and crumpled and used-up pocket handkerchief
148 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
never left the clutch of her plump red hand. " Goo*
girls, all of them," she kept on saying in a tremulous
voice ; " such-goo-goo-goo-girls ! " She wetted Mr. Polly
dreadfully when she kissed him. Her emotion affected
the buttons down the back of her bodice, and almost the
last filial duty Miriam did before entering on her new
life was to close that gaping orifice for the eleventh
time. Her bonnet was small and ill-balanced, black
adorned with red roses, and first it got over her right
eye until Annie told her of it, and then she pushed it
over her left eye and looked ferocious for a space, and
after that baptismal kissing of Mr. Polly the delicate
millinery took fright and climbed right up to the back
part of her head and hung on there by a pin, and flapped
piteously at all the larger waves of emotion that filled
the gathering. Mr. Polly became more and more aware
of that bonnet as time went on, until he felt for it like
a thing alive. Towards the end it had yawning fits.
The company did not include Mrs. Johnson, but
Johnson came with a manifest surreptitiousness and
backed against walls and watched Mr. Polly with doubt
and speculation in his large grey eyes and whistled
noiselessly and doubtful on the edge of things. He was,
so to speak, to be best man, sotto voce. A sprinkling
of girls in gay hats from Miriam's place of business ap-
peared in church, great nudgers all of them, but only
two came on afterwards to the house. Mrs. Punt
brought her son with his ever-widening mind, it was his
first wedding, and a Larkins uncle, a Mr. Voules, a
licenced victualler, very kindly drove over in a gig from
Sommershill with a plump, well-dressed wife to give the
bride away. One or two total strangers drifted into the
church and sat down observantly far away.
This sprinkling of people seemed only to enhance the
cool brown emptiness of the church, the rows and rows
of empty pews, disengaged prayer-books and abandoned
hassocks. It had the effect of a preposterous misfit.
Johnson consulted with a thin-legged, short-skirted
verger about the disposition of the party. The officiat-
ing clergy appeared distantly in the doorway of the ves-
try, putting on his surplice, and relapsed into a con-
templative cheek-scratching that was manifestly habitual.
Before the bride arrived Mr. Polly's sense of the church
found an outlet in whispered criticisms of ecclesiastical
architecture with Johnson. " Early Norman arches^
eh ? " he said, " or Perpendicular."
" Can't say," said Johnson.
" Telessated pavements, all right."
" It's well laid anyhow."
" Can't say I admire the altar. Scrappy rather with
He coughed behind his hand and cleared his throat.
At the back of his mind he was speculating whether flight
at this eleventh hour would be criminal or merely repre-
hensible bad taste. A murmur from the nudgers an-
nounced the arrival of the bridal party.
The little procession from a remote door became one
of the enduring memories of Mr. Polly's life. The little-
150 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
verger had bustled to meet it, and arrange it according
to tradition and morality. In spite of Mrs. Larkins'
" Don't take her from me yet ! " he made Miriam go
first with Mr. Voules, the bridesmaids followed and
then himself hopelessly unable to disentangle himself
from the whispering maternal anguish of Mrs. Larkins.
Mrs. Voules, a compact, rounded woman with a square,
expressionless face, imperturbable dignity, and a dress
of considerable fashion, completed the procession.
Mr. Polly's eye fell first upon the bride; the sight of
her filled him with a curious stir of emotion. Alarm,
desire, affection, respect and a queer element of re-
luctant dislike all played their part in that complex eddy.
The grey dress made her a stranger to him, made her
stiff and commonplace, she was not even the rather droop-
ing form that had caught his facile sense of beauty when
he had proposed to her in the Recreation Ground. There
was something too that did not please him in the angle of
her hat, it was indeed an ill-conceived hat with large
aimless rosettes of pink and grey. Then his mind passed
to Mrs. Larkins and the bonnet that was to gain such a
hold upon him ; it seemed to be flag-signalling as she
advanced, and to the two eager, unrefined sisters he was
A freak of fancy set him wondering where and when
in the future a beautiful girl with red hair might march
along some splendid aisle. Never mind ! He became
aware of Mr. Voules.
He became aware of Mr. Voules as a watchful, blue
eye of intense forcefulness. It was the eye of a man
who has got hold of a situation. He was a fat, short,
red-faced man clad in a tight-fitting tail coat of black
and white check with a coquettish bow tie under the low-
est of a number of crisp little red chins. He held the
bride under his arm with an air of invincible champion-
ship, and his free arm flourished a grey top hat of an
equestrian type. Mr. Polly instantly learnt from the
eye that Mr. Voules knew all about his longing for
flight. Its azure pupil glowed with disciplined resolu-
tion. It said : " I've come to give this girl away, and
give her away I will. I'm here now and things have to
go on all right. So don't think of it any more " and Mr.
Polly didn't. A faint phantom of a certain " lill' dog "
that had hovered just beneath the threshold of conscious-
ness vanished into black impossibility. Until the con-
clusive moment of the service was attained the eye of
Mr. Voules watched Mr. Polly relentlessly, and then
instantly he relieved guard, and blew his nose into a
voluminous and richly patterned handkerchief, and
sighed and looked round for the approval and sympathy
/of Mrs. Voules, and nodded to her brightly like one who
has always foretold a successful issue to things. Mr.
Polly felt then like a marionette that has just dropped
off its wire. But it was long before that release arrived.
He became aware of Miriam breathing close to him.
" Hullo ! " he said, and feeling that was clumsy and
would meet the eye's disapproval : " Grey dress suits
you no end."
152 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
Miriam's eyes shone under her hat-brim.
" Not reely ! " she whispered.
" You're all right," he said with the feeling of obser-
vation and criticism stiffening his lips. He cleared his
The verger's hand pushed at him from behind. Some-
one was driving Miriam towards the altar rail and the
clergyman. " We're in for it," said Mr. Polly to her
sympathetically. "Where? Here? Right O."
He was interested for a moment or so in something in-
describably habitual in the clergyman's pose. What a
lot of weddings he must have seen ! Sick he must be of
" Don't let your attention wander," said the eye.
" Got the ring ? " whispered Johnson.
" Pawned it yesterday," answered Mr. Polly and then
had a dreadful moment under that pitiless scrutiny while
A\Q felt in the wrong waistcoat pocket. . . .
The officiating clergy sighed deeply, began, and mar-
ried them wearily and without any hitch.
" D'b' loved, we gath'd 'gether sight o' Card 'n face this
con' gallon join 'gather Man, Worn' Holy Mat'my which
is on'bl state stooted by Card in times man's inno-
cency. . . ."
Mr. Polly's thoughts wandered wide and far, and once
again something like a cold hand touched his heart, and
he saw a sweet face in sunshine under the shadow of
Someone was nudging him. It was Johnson's finger
diverted his eyes to the crucial place in the prayer-book
to which they had come.
" Wiltou lover, cumfer, oner, keeper sickness and
"Say 'I will.'"
Mr. Polly moistened his lips. " I will," he said
Miriam, nearly inaudible, answered some similar de-
Then the clergyman said : " Who gif s Worn married
to this man? "
" Well, I'm doing that," said Mr. Voules in a refresh-
ingly full voice and looking round the church. "You
see, me and Martha Larkins being cousins "
He was silenced by the clergyman's rapid grip direct-
ing the exchange of hands.
" Pete arf rne," said the clergyman to Mr. Polly.
"Take thee Mirum wed wife "
" Take thee Mirum wed' wife," said Mr. Polly.
" Have hold this day ford."
" Have hold this day ford."
" Betvvorse, richpoo' "
" Bet worsh, richpoo'. . . ."
Then came Miriam's turn.
"Lego hands," said the clergyman; "got the ring?
No ! On the book. So ! Here ! Pete arf me, ' withis
ring Ivy wed.' *
" Withis ring Ivy wed "
So it went on, blurred and hurried, like the momentary
154 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
vision of an utterly beautiful thing seen through the
smoke of a passing train. . . .
" Now, my boy," said Mr. Voules at last, gripping Mr.
Polly's elbow tightly, " you've got to sign the registry,
and there you are ! Done ! "
Before him stood Miriam, a little stiffly, the hat with a
slight rake across her forehead, and a kind of question-
ing hesitation in her face. Mr. Voules urged him past
It was astounding. She was his wife!
And for some reason Miriam and Mrs. Larkins were
sobbing, and Annie was looking grave. Hadn't they
after all wanted him to marry her? Because if that was
the case !
He became aware for the first time of the presence of
Uncle Pentstemon in the background, but approaching,
wearing a tie of a light mineral blue colour, and grinning
and sucking enigmatically and judiciously round his
It was in the vestry that the force of Mr. Voules'
personality began to show at its true value. He seemed
to open out and spread over things directly the restraints
of the ceremony were at an end.
" Everything," he said to the clergyman, " excellent."
He also shook hands with Mrs. Larkins, who clung to
him for a space, and kissed Miriam on the cheek. " First
kiss for me," he said, " anyhow."
He led Mr. Polly to the register by the arm, and then
got chairs for Mrs. Larkins and his wife. He then
turned on Miriam. " Now, young people," he said.
" One ! or 7 shall again."
" That's right ! " said Mr. Voules. " Same again,
Mr. Polly was overcome with modest confusion, and
turning, found a refuge from this publicity in the arms
of Mrs. Larkins. Then in a state of profuse moisture
he was assaulted and kissed by Annie and Minnie, who
were immediately kissed upon some indistinctly stated
grounds by Mr. Voules, who then kissed the entirely
impassive Mrs. Voules and smacked his lips and re-
marked : " Home again safe and sound ! " Then with a
strange harrowing cry Mrs. Larkins seized upon and be-
dewed Miriam with kisses, Annie and Minnie kissed each
other, and Johnson went abruptly to the door of the
vestry and stared into the church no doubt with ideas
of sanctuary in his mind. " Like a bit of a kiss round
sometimes," said Mr. Voules, and made a kind of hissing
noise with his teeth, and suddenly smacked his hands
together with great eclat several times. Meanwhile the
clergyman scratched his cheek with one hand and fiddled
the pen with the other and the verger coughed protest-
" The dog cart's just outside," said Mr. Voules. " No
walking home to-day for the bride, Mam."
" Not going to drive us? " cried Annie.
" The happy pair, Miss. Your turn soon."
156 THE HISTORY. OF MR. POLLY
" Get out ! " said Annie. " I shan't marry ever."
" You won't be able to help it. You'll have to do it
just to disperse the crowd." Mr. Voules laid his hand on
Mr. Polly's shoulder. " The bridegroom gives his arm
to the bride. Hands across and down the middle.
Prump. Prump, Perump-pump-pump-pump."
Mr. Polly found himself and the bride leading the way
towards the western door.
Mrs. Larkins passed close to Uncle Pentstemon, sob-
bing too earnestly to be aware of him. " Such a goo-
goo-goo-girl ! " she sobbed.
" Didn't think I'd come, did you ? " said Uncle Pentste-
mon, but she swept past him, too busy with the expres-
sion of her feelings to observe him.
" She didn't think I'd come, I lay," said Uncle Pentste-
mon, a little foiled, but effecting an auditory lodgment
" I don't know," said Johnson uncomfortably. " I
suppose you were asked. How are you getting on ? "
" I was arst," said Uncle Pentstemon, and brooded for
" I goes about seeing wonders," he added, and then
in a sort of enhanced undertone : " One of 'er girls get-
tin' married. That's what I mean by wonders. Lord's
goodness ! Wow ! "
" Nothing the matter? " asked Johnson.
" Got it in the back for a moment. Going to be a
change of weather I suppose," said Uncle Pentstemon.
" I brought 'er a nice present, too, what I got in this
passel. Vallyble old tea caddy that uset' tie my mother's.
What I kep' my baccy in for years and years till the
hinge at the back got broke. It ain't been no use to me
'particular since, so thinks I, drat it ! I may as well give
it 'er as not. . . ."
Mr. Polly found himself emerging from the western
Outside, a crowd of half-a-dozen adults and about fifty
children had collected, and hailed the approach of the
newly wedded couple with a faint, indeterminate cheer.
All the children were holding something in little bags,
and his attention was caught by the expression of vin-
dictive concentration upon the face of a small big-eared
boy in the foreground. He didn't for the moment realise
what these things might import. Then he received a
stinging handful of rice in the ear, and a great light
" Not yet, you young fool ! " he heard Mr. Voules say-
ing behind him, and then a second handful spoke against
" Not yet," said Mr. Voules with increasing emphasis,
and Mr. Polly became aware that he and Miriam were
the focus of two crescents of small boys, each with the
light of massacre in his eyes and a grubby fist clutching
into a paper bag for rice ; and that Mr. Voules was ward-
ing off probable discharges with a large red hand.
The dog cart was in charge of a loafer, and the horse
and the whip were adorned with white favours, and the
back seat was confused but not untenable with hampers.
158 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
" Up we go," said Mr. Voules, " old birds in front and
young ones behind." An ominous group of ill-resirained
rice-throwers followed them up as they mounted.
" Get your handkerchief for your face," said Mr. Polly
to his bride, and took the place next the pavement with
considerable heroism, held on, gripped his hat, shut his
eyes and prepared for the worst. " Off ! " said Mr.
Voules, and a concentrated fire came stinging Mr. Polly's
The horse shied, and when the bridegroom could look
at the world again it was manifest the dog cart had just
missed an electric tram by a hairsbreadth, and far away
outside the church railings the verger and Johnson were
battling with an active crowd of small boys for the life
of the rest of the Larkins family. Mrs. Punt and her
son had escaped across the road, the son trailing and
stumbling at the end of a remorseless arm, but Uncle
Pentstemon, encumbered by the tea-caddy, was the cen-
tre of a little circle of his own, and appeared to be drat-
ting them all very heartily. Remoter, a policeman ap-
proached with an air of tranquil unconsciousness.
" Steady, you idiot. Stead-y! " cried Mr. Voules, and
then over his shoulder : " I brought that rice ! I like
old customs! Whoa! Stead-y."
The dog cart swerved violently, and then, evoking a
shout of groundless alarm from a cyclist, took a corner,
and the rest of the wedding party was hidden from Mr.
" We'll get the stuff into the house before the old gal
comes along," said Mr. Voules, " if you'll hold the hoss."
" How about the key ? " asked Mr. Polly.
" I got the key, coming."
And while Mr. Polly held the sweating horse and
dodged the foam that dripped from its bit, the house ab-
sorbed Miriam and Mr. Voules altogether. Mr. Voules
carried in the various hampers he had brought with him,
and finally closed the door behind him.
For some time Mr. Polly remained alone with his
charge in the little blind alley outside the Larkins' house,
while the neighbours scrutinised him from behind their
blinds. He reflected that he was a married man, that he
must look very like a fool, that the head of a horse is a
silly shape and its eye a bulger; he wondered what the
horse thought of him, and whether it really liked being
held and patted on the neck or whether it only submitted
out of contempt. Did it know he was married? Then
he wondered if the clergyman had thought him much of
an ass, and then whether the individual lurking behind
the lace curtains of the front room next door was a man
or a woman. A door opened over the way, and an elderly
gentleman in a kind of embroidered fez appeared smok-
ing a pipe with a quiet satisfied expression. He regarded
Mr. Polly for some time with mild but sustained curiosity.
Finally he called: "Hi!"
160 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY.
"Hullo!" said Mr. Polly.
" You needn't 'old that 'orse," said the old gentleman.
" Spirited beast," said Mr. Polly. " And," with some
faint analogy to ginger beer in his mind " he's uo to-
" 'E won't turn 'isself round," said the old gentleman,
" anyow. And there ain't no way through for 'im to
"Verbum sap," said Mr. Polly, and abandoned the
horse and turned to the door. It opened to him just as
Mrs. Larkins on the arm of Johnson, followed by Annie,
Minnie, two friends, Mrs. Punt and her son and at a
slight distance Uncle Pentstemon, appeared round the
" They're coming," he said to Miriam, and put an arm
about her and gave her a kiss.
She was kissing him back when they were startled
violently by the shying of two empty hampers into the
passage. Then Mr. Voules appeared holding a third.
" Here ! you'll 'ave plenty of time for that presently,"
he said, " get these hampers away before the old girl
comes. I got a cold collation here to make her sit up.
My eye I "
Miriam took the hampers, and Mr. Polly under com-
pulsion from Mr. Voules went into the little front room.
A profuse pie and a large ham had been added to the
modest provision of Mrs. Larkins, and a number of
select-looking bottles shouldered the bottle of sherry and
the bottle of port she had got to grace the feast. They
certainly went better with the iced wedding cake in the
tniddle. Mrs. Voules, still impassive, stood by the win-
dow regarding these things with a faint approval.
" Makes it look a bit thicker, eh ? " said Mr. Voules,
and blew out both his cheeks and smacked his hands to-
gether violently several times. " Surprise the old girl no
He stood back and smiled and bowed with arms ex-
tended as the others came clustering at the door.
" Why, Un-cle Voules ! " cried Annie, with a rising
It was his reward.
And then came a great wedging and squeezing and
crowding into the little room. Nearly everyone was
hungry, and eyes brightened at the sight of the pie and
the ham and the convivial array of bottles. " Sit down
everyone," cried Mr. Voules, " leaning against anything
counts as sitting, and makes it easier to shake down the
The two friends from Miriam's place of business came
into the room among the first, and then wedged them-
selves so hopelessly against Johnson in an attempt to get
out again and take off their things upstairs that they
abandoned the attempt. Amid the struggle Mr. Polly
saw Uncle Pentstemon relieve himself of his parcel by
giving it to the bride. " Here ! " he said and handed it
to her. "Weddin' present," he explained, and added
with a confidential chuckle, " / never thought I'd 'ave to
give you one ever."
162 THE HISTORY. OF. MR. POLLY
" Who says steak and kidney pie ? " bawled Mr. Voules.
" Who says steak and kidney pie ? You 'ave a drop of
old Tommy, Martha. That's what you want to steady
you. ... Sit down everyone and don't all speak
at once. Who says steak and kidney pie? . . ."
" Vocificeratious," whispered Mr. Polly. " Convivial
" Bit of 'am with it," shouted Mr. Voules, poising a
slice of ham on his knife. " Anyone 'ave a bit of 'am
with it? Won't that little man of yours, Mrs. Punt
won't 'e 'ave a bit of '3m? . . ."
" And now ladies and gentlemen," said Mr. Voules,
still standing and dominating the crammed roomful,
" now you got your plates filled and something I can war-
rant you good in your glasses, wot about drinking the
'ealth of the bride?"
" Eat a bit fust," said Uncle Pentstemon, speaking
with his mouth full, amidst murmurs of applause. " Eat
a bit fust."
So they did, and the plates clattered and the glasses
Mr. Polly stood shoulder to shoulder with Johnson for
" In for it," said Mr. Polly cheeringly. " Cheer up,
O' Man, and peck a bit. No reason why you shouldn't
eat, you know."
The Punt boy stood on Mr. Polly's boots for a minute,
struggling violently against the compunction of Mrs.
" Pie," said the Punt boy, " Pie ! "
" You sit 'ere and 'ave 'am, my lord ! " said Mrs. Punt,
prevailing. " Pie you can't 'ave and you won't."
" Lor bless my heart, Mrs. Punt ! " protested Mr.
Voules, " let the boy 'ave a bit if he wants it wedding
and all ! "
" You 'aven't 'ad 'im 'sick 'on 'your 'ands, Uncle
Voules," said Mrs. Punt. "Else you wouldn't want to
humour his fancies as you do. . . ."
" I can't help feeling it's a mistake, O' Man," said
Johnson, in a confidential undertone. " I can't help feel-
ing you've been Rash. Let's hope for the best."
" Always glad of good wishes, O' Man," said Mr.
Polly. " You'd better have a drink of something. Any-
how, sit down to it."
Johnson subsided gloomily, and Mr. Polly secured
some ham and carried it off and sat himself down on the
sewing machine on the floor in the corner to devour it.
He was hungry, and a little cut off from the rest of the
company by Mrs. Voules' hat and back, and he occupied
himself for a time with ham and his own thoughts. He
became aware of a series of jangling concussions on the
table. He craned his neck and discovered that Mr.
Voules was standing up and leaning forward over the
table in the manner distinctive of after-dinner speeches,
tapping upon the table with a black bottle. " Ladies and
gentlemen," said Mr. Voules, raising his glass solemnly
in the empty desert of sound he had made, and paused for
a second or so. " Ladies and gentlemen, The Bride."
164 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
He searched his mind for some suitable wreath of speech,
and brightened at last with discovery. " Here's Luck
to her ! " he said at last.
" Here's Luck ! " said Johnson hopelessly but reso-
lutely, and raised his glass. Everybody murmured:
" Here's luck."
" Luck ! " said Mr. Polly, unseen in his corner, lifting
a forkful of ham.
" That's all right," said Mr. Voules with a sigh of re-
lief at having brought off a difficult operation. " And
now, who's for a bit more pie ? "
For a time conversation was fragmentary again. But
presently Mr. Voules rose from his chair again; he had
subsided with a contented smile after his first oratorical
effort, and produced a silence by renewed hammering.
" Ladies and gents," he said, " fill up for the second
toast : the happy Bridegroom ! " He stood for half a
minute searching his mind for the apt phrase that came
at last in a rush. " Here's (hie) luck to him" said Mr.
" Luck to him ! " said everyone, and Mr. Polly, stand-
ing up behind Mrs. Voules, bowed amiably, amidst en-
" He may say what he likes," said Mrs. Larkins, " he's
got luck. That girl's a treasure of treasures, and always
has been ever since she tried to nurse her own little sister,
being but three at the time, and fell the full flight of
stairs from top to bottom, no hurt that any outward eye
'as even seen, but always ready and helpful, always tidy-
ing and busy. A treasure, I must say, and a treasure I
will say, giving no more than her due. . . ."
She was silenced altogether by a rapping sound that
would not be denied. Mr. Voules had been struck by a
fresh idea and was standing up and hammering with the
" The third Toast, ladies and gentlemen," he said ; " fill
up, please. The Mother of the bride. I er. . . .
Uoo. . . . Ere! . . . Ladies and gem, 'Ere's
Luck to 'er! . . ."
The dingy little room was stuffy and crowded to its
utmost limit, and Mr. Polly's skies were dark with the
sense of irreparable acts. Everybody seemed noisy and
greedy and doing foolish things. Miriam, still in that
unbecoming hat for presently they had to start off to
the station together sat just beyond Mrs. Punt and her
son, doing her share in the hospitalities, and ever and
again glancing at him with a deliberately encouraging
smile. Once she leant over the back of the chair to him
and whispered cheeringly : " Soon be together now."
Next to her sat Johnson, profoundly silent, and then
Annie, talking vigorously to a friend. Uncle Pentstemon
was eating voraciously opposite, but with a kindling eye
for Annie. Mrs. Larkins sat next to Mr. Voules. She
was unable to eat a mouthful, she declared, it would
choke her, but ever and again Mr. Voules wooed her to
swallow a little drop of liquid refreshment.
166 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
There seemed a lot of rice upon everybody, in their
hats and hair and the folds of their garments.
Presently Mr. Voules was hammering the table for the
'fourth time in the interests of the Best Man. . . .
All feasts come to an end at last, and the break-up of
things was precipitated by alarming symptoms on the
part of Master Punt. He was taken out hastily after a
whispered consultation, and since he had got into the
corner between the fireplace and the cupboard, that meant
everyone moving to make way for him. Johnson took
the opportunity to say, " Well so long," to anyone who
might be listening, and disappear. Mr. Polly found him-
self smoking a cigarette and walking up and down out-
side in the company of Uncle Pentstemon, while Mr.
Voules replaced bottles in hampers and prepared for de-
parture, and the womenkind of the party crowded up-
stairs with the bride. Mr. Polly felt taciturn, but the
events of the day had stirred the mind of Uncle Pentste-
mon to speech. And so he spoke, discursively and dis-
connectedly, a little heedless of his listener as wise old
" They do say," said Uncle Pentstemon, " one funeral
makes many. This time it's a wedding. But it's all very
much of a muchness," said Uncle Pentstemon. . . .
" 'Am do get in my teeth nowadays," said Uncle
Pentstemon, " I can't understand it. 'Tisn't like there
was nubbicks or strings or such in 'am. It's a plain
" That's better," he said at last.
" You got to get married," said Uncle Pentstemon.
" Some has. Some hain't. I done it long before I was
your age. It hain't for me to blame you. You can't 'elp
being the marrying sort any more than me. It's nat'ral
like poaching or drinking or wind on the stummik.
You can't 'elp it and there you are ! As for the good of
it, there ain't no particular good in it as I can see. It's
a toss up. The hotter come, the sooner cold, but they all
gets tired of it sooner or later. ... I hain't no
grounds to complain. Two I've 'ad and berried, and
might 'ave 'ad a third, and never no worrit with kids
never. . . ."
" You done well not to 'ave the big gal. I will say
that for ye. She's a gad-about grinny, she is, if ever
was. A gad-about grinny. Mucked up my mushroom
bed to rights, she did, and I 'aven't forgot it. Got the
feet of a centipede, she 'as all over everything and
neither with your leave nor by your leave. Like a stray
'en in a pea patch. Cluck! cluck! Trying to laugh it
off. / laughed 'er off, I did. Dratted lumpin bag-
gage! . . ."
For a while he mused malevolently upon Annie, and
routed out a reluctant crumb from some coy sitting-out
place in his tooth.
" Wimmin's a toss up," said Uncle Pentstemon.
" Prize packets they are, and you can't tell what's in 'em
till you took 'em 'ome and undone 'em. Never was a
bachelor married yet that didn't buy a pig in a poke.
Never. Marriage seems to change the very natures in
168 THE HISTORY, OF MR. POLLY
'em through and through. You can't tell what they
won't turn into nohow.
" I seen the nicest girls go wrong," said Uncle Pentste-
mon, and added with unusual thought fulness, " Not that
I mean you got one of that sort."
He sent another crumb on to its long home with a
sucking, encouraging noise.
"The wust sort's the grizzler," Uncle Pentstemon re-
sumed. " If ever I'd 'ad a grizzler I'd up and 'it 'er on
the 'ed with sumpthin' pretty quick. I don't think I
could abide a grizzler," said Uncle Pentstemon. " I'd
liefer 'ave a lump-about like that other gal. I would in-
deed. I lay I'd make 'er stop laughing after a bit for all
'er airs. And mind where her clumsy great feet
went. . . .
" A man's got to tackle 'em, whatever they be," said
Uncle Pentstemon, summing up the shrewd observation
of an old-world life time. " Good or bad," said Uncle
Pentstemon raising his voice fearlessly, " a man's got to
At last it was time for the two young people to catch
the train for Waterloo en route for Fishbourne. They
had to hurry, and as a concluding glory of matrimony
they travelled second-class, and were seen off by all the
rest of the party except the Punts, Master Punt being
now beyond any question unwell.
" Off ! " The train moved out of the station.
Mr. Polly remained waving his hat and Mrs. Polly
her handkerchief until they were hidden under the bridge.
The dominating figure to the last was Mr. Voules. He
had followed them along the platform waving the eques-
trian grey hat and kissing his hand to the bride.
They subsided into their seats.
" Got a compartment to ourselves anyhow," said Mrs.
Polly after a pause.
Silence for a moment.
" The rice 'e must 'ave bought. Pounds and pounds ! "
Mr. Polly felt round his collar at the thought.
" Ain't you going to kiss me, Elfrid, now we're alone
together ? "
He roused himself to sit forward hands on knees,
cocked his hat over one eye, and assumed an expression
of avidity becoming to the occasion.
" Never ! " he said. " Ever ! " and feigned to be select-
ing a place to kiss with great discrimination.
" Come here," he said, and drew her to him.
" Be careful of my 'at," said Mrs. Polly, yielding awk-
THE LITTLE SHOP AT FISHBOURNE
CHAPTER THE SEVENTH
THE LITTLE SHOP AT FISHBOURNE
FOR fifteen years Mr. Polly was a respectable shop-
keeper in Fishbourne.
Years they were in which every day was tedious,
and when they were gone it was as if they had gone in a
flash. But now Mr. Polly had good looks no more, he
was as I have described him in the beginning of this
story, thirty-seven and fattish in a not very healthy way,
dull and yellowish about the complexion, and with dis-
contented wrinklings round his eyes. He sat on the stile
above Fishbourne and cried to the Heavens above him:
"Oh! Roo-o-o-tten Be-e-astly Silly Hole!" And he
wore a rather shabby black morning coat and vest, and
his tie was richly splendid, being from stock, and his golf
cap aslant over one eye.
Fifteen years ago, and it might have seemed to you
that the queer little flower of Mr. Polly's imagination
must be altogether withered and dead, and with no living
seed left in any part of him. But indeed it still lived as
an insatiable hunger for bright and delightful experi-
ences, for the gracious aspects of things, for beauty. He
174 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
still read books when he had a chance, books that told o
glorious places abroad and glorious times, that wrung a
rich humour from life and contained the delight of words
freshly and expressively grouped. But alas ! there are
not many such books, and for the newspapers and the
cheap fiction that abounded more and more in the world
Mr. Polly had little taste. There was no epithet in them.
And there was no one to talk to, as he loved to talk. And
he had to mind his shop.
It was a reluctant little shop from the beginning.
He had taken it to escape the doom of Johnson's choice
and because Fishbourne had a hold upon his imagination.
He had disregarded the ill-built cramped rooms behind
it in which he would have to lurk and live, the relentless
limitations of its dimensions, the inconvenience of an
underground kitchen that must necessarily be the living-
room in winter, the narrow yard behind giving upon the
yard of the Royal Fishbourne Hotel, the tiresome sitting
and waiting for custom, the restricted prospects of trade.
He had visualised himself and Miriam first as at break-
fast on a clear bright winter morning amidst a tremen-
dous smell of bacon, and then as having muffins for tea.
He had also thought of sitting on the beach on Sunday
afternoons and of going for a walk in the country behind
the town and picking marguerites and poppies. But, in
fact, Miriam and he were extremely cross at breakfast,
and it didn't run to muffins at tea. And she didn't think
it looked well, she said, to go trapesing about the country
THE LITTLE SHOP AT FISH BOURNE 175
It was unfortunate that Miriam never took to the
house from the first. She did not like it when she saw
it, and liked it less as she explored it. " There's too
many stairs," she said, " and the coal being indoors will
make a lot of work."
" Didn't think of that," said Mr. Polly, following her
" It'll be a hard house to keep clean," said Miriam.
" White paint's all very well in its way," said Miriam,
" but it shows the dirt something fearful. Better 'ave 'ad
it nicely grained."
" There's a kind of place here," said Mr. Polly,
" where we might have some flowers in pots."
" Not me," said Miriam. " I've 'ad trouble enough
with Minnie and 'er musk. . . ."
They stayed for a week in a cheap boarding house be-
fore they moved in. They had bought some furniture
in Stamton, mostly second-hand, but with new cheap
cutlery and china and linen, and they had supplemented
this from the Fishbourne shops. Miriam, relieved from
the hilarious associations of home, developed a meagre
and serious quality of her own, and went about with
knitted brows pursuing some ideal of " 'aving everything
right." Mr. Polly gave himself to the arrangement of
the shop with a certain zest, and whistled a good deal
until Miriam appeared and said that it went through her
head. So soon as he had taken the shop he had filled the
window with aggressive posters announcing in no meas-
ured terms that he was going to open, and now he was
176 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
getting his stuff put out he was resolved to show Fish-
bourne what window dressing could do. He meant to
give them boater straws, imitation Panamas, bathing
dresses with novelties in stripes, light flannel shirts, sum-
mer ties, and ready-made flannel trousers for men, youths
and boys. Incidentally he watched the small fishmonger
over the way, and had a glimpse of the china dealer next
door, and wondered if a friendly nod would be out of
place. And on the first Sunday in this new life he and
Miriam arrayed themselves with great care, he in his
wedding-funeral hat and coat and she in her going-away
dress, and went processionally to church, a more respect-
able looking couple you could hardly imagine, and looked
Things began to settle down next week into their
places. A few customers came, chiefly for bathing suits
and hat guards, and on Saturday night the cheapest
straw hats and ties, and Mr. Polly found himself more
and more drawn towards the shop door and the social
charm of the street. He found the china dealer un-
packing a crate at the edge of the pavement, and re-
marked that it was a fine day. The china dealer gave a
reluctant assent, and plunged into the crate in a manner
that presented no encouragement to a loquacious neigh-
"Zealacious commerciality," whispered Mr. Polly to
that unfriendly back view. . . .
THE LITTLE SHOP AT FISH BOURNE 177
Miriam combined earnestness of spirit with great prac-
tical incapacity. The house was never clean nor tidy,
but always being frightfully disarranged for cleaning or
tidying up, and she cooked because food had to be cooked
and with a sound moralist's entire disregard of the qual-
ity of the consequences. The food came from her hands
done rather than improved, and looking as uncomfortable
as savages clothed under duress by a missionary with a
stock of out-sizes. Such food is too apt to behave re-
sentfully, rebel and work Obi. She ceased to listen to
her husband's talk from the day she married him, and
ceased to unwrinkle the kink in her brow at his presence,
giving herself up to mental states that had a quality of
secret preoccupation. And she developed an idea for
which perhaps there was legitimate excuse, that he was
lazy. He seemed to stand about in the shop a great deal,
to read an indolent habit and presently to seek com-
pany for talking. He began to attend the bar parlour of
the God's Providence Inrj with some frequency, and
would have done so regularly in the evening if cards,
which bored him to death, had not arrested conversation.
But the perpetual foolish variation of the permutations
and combinations of two and fifty cards taken five at a
time, and the meagre surprises and excitements that en-
sue had no charms for Mr. Polly's mind, which was at
once too vivid in its impressions and too easily fatigued.
178 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
It was soon manifest the shop paid only in the least
exacting sense, and Miriam did not conceal her opinion
that he ought to bestir himself and " do things," though
what he was to do was hard to say. You see, when you
have once sunken your capital in a shop you do not very
easily get it out again. If customers will not come to you
cheerfully and freely the law sets limits upon the com-
pulsion you may exercise. You cannot pursue people
about the streets of a watering place, compelling them
either by threats or importunity to buy flannel trousers.
Additional sources of income for a tradesman are not
always easy to find. Wintershed at the bicycle and
gramaphone shop to the right, played the organ in the
church, and Clamp of the toy shop was pew opener and
so forth, Gambell, the greengrocer, waited at table and
his wife cooked, and Carter, the watchmaker, left things
to his wife while he went about the world winding
clocks, but Mr. Polly had none of these arts, and wouldn't,
in spite of Miriam's quietly persistent protests, get any
other. And on summer evenings he would ride his bi-
cycle about the country, and if he discovered a sale where
there were books he would as often as not waste half the
next day in going again to acquire a job lot of them hap-
hazard, and bring them home tied about with a string,
and hide them from Miriam under the counter in the
shop. That is a heartbreaking thing for any wife with a
serious investigatory turn of mind to discover. She was
always thinking of burning these finds, but her natural
turn for economy prevailed with her.
THE LITTLE SHOP AT FISH BOURNE 179
The books he read during those fifteen years! He
read everything he got except theology, and as he read
his little unsuccessful circumstances vanished and the
wonder of life returned to him, the routine of reluctant
getting up, opening shop, pretending to dust it with zest,
breakfasting with a shop egg underdone or overdone or
a herring raw or charred, and coffee made Miriam's way
and full of little particles, the return to the shop, the
morning paper, the standing, standing at the door saying
" How do ! " to passers-by, or getting a bit of gossip or
watching unusual visitors, all these things vanished as
the auditorium of a theatre vanishes when the stage is
lit. He acquired hundreds of books at last, old dusty
books, books with torn covers and broken covers, fat
books whose backs were naked string and glue, an inimi-
cal litter to Miriam.
There was, for example, the voyages of La Perouse,
with many careful, explicit woodcuts and the frankest
revelations of the ways of the eighteenth century sailor-
man, homely, adventurous;' drunken, incontinent and de-
lightful, until he floated, smooth and slow, with all sails
set and mirrored in the glassy water, until his head was
full of the thought of shining kindly brown-skinned
women, who smiled at him and wreathed his head with
unfamiliar flowers. He had, too, a piece of a book about
the lost palaces of Yucatan, those vast terraces buried in
primordial forest, of whose makers there is now no hu-
man memory. With La Perouse he linked " The Island
Nights Entertainments," and it never palled upon him
i8o THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
that in the dusky stabbing of the " Island of Voices "
something poured over the stabber's hands " like warm
tea." Queer incommunicable joy it is, the joy of the vivid
phrase that turns the statement of the horridest fact to
And another book which had no beginning for him was
the second volume of the Travels of the Abbes Hue and
Gabet. He followed those two sweet souls from their
lessons in Thibetan under Sandura the Bearded (who
called them donkeys to their infinite benefit and stole
their store of butter) through a hundred misadventures
to the very heart of Lhassa, and it was a thirst in him
that was never quenched to find the other volume and
whence they came, and who in fact they were. He read
Fenimore Cooper and " Tom Cringle's Log " side by
side with Joseph Conrad, and dreamt of the many-hued
humanity of the East and West Indies until his heart
ached to see those sun-soaked lands before he died. Con-
rad's prose had a pleasure for him that he was never able
to define, a peculiar deep coloured effect. He found too
one day among a pile of soiled sixpenny books at Port
.Burdock, to which place he sometimes rode on his age-
ing bicycle, Bart Kennedy's " A Sailor Tramp," all writ-
ten in livid jerks, and had forever after a kindlier and
more understanding eye for every burly rough who
slouched through Fishbourne High Street. Sterne he
read with a wavering appreciation and some perplexity,
but except for the Pickwick papers, for some reason that
I do not understand he never took at all kindly to
THE LITTLE SHOP AT FISHBOURNE 181
Dickens. Yet he liked Lever and Thackeray's " Cath-
erine," and all Dumas until he got to the Vicomte de
Bragelonne. I am puzzled by his insensibility to Dickens,
and I record it as a good historian should, with an admis-
sion of my perplexity. It is much more understandable
that he had no love for Scott. And I suppose it was be-
cause of his ignorance of the proper pronunciation of
words that he infinitely preferred any prose to any
A book he browsed over with a recurrent pleasure was
Waterton's Wanderings in South America. He would
even amuse himself by inventing descriptions of other
birds in the Watertonian manner, new birds that he in-
vented, birds with peculiarities that made him chuckle
when they occurred to him. He tried to make Rusper,
the ironmonger, share this joy with him. He read Bates,
too, about the Amazon, but when he discovered that you
could not see one bank from the other, he lost, through
some mysterious action of the soul that again I cannot
understand, at least a tithe of the pleasure he had taken
in that river. But he read all sorts of things ; a book of
old Keltic stories collected by Joyce charmed him, and
Mitford's Tales of Old Japan, and a number of paper-
covered volumes, Tales from Blackwood, he had acquired
at Easewood, remained a stand-by. He developed a
quite considerable acquaintance with the plays of William
Shakespeare, and in his dreams he wore cinque cento or
Elizabethan clothes, and walked about a stormy, ruffling,
taverning, teeming world. Great land of sublimated
182 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
things, thou World of Books, happy asylum, refreshment
and refuge from the world of everyday! . * .
The essential thing of those fifteen long years of shop-
keeping is Mr. Polly, well athwart the counter of his
rather ill-lit shop, lost in a book, or rousing himself with
a sigh to attend to business.
Meanwhile he got little exercise, indigestion grew with
him until it ruled all his moods, he fattened and deterio-
rated physically, moods of distress invaded and darkened
his skies, little things irritated him more and more, and
casual laughter ceased in him. His hair began to come
off until he had a large bald space at the back of his head.
Suddenly one day it came to him forgetful of those
books and all he had lived and seen through them that
he had been in his shop for exactly fifteen years, that he
would soon be forty, and that his life during that time
had not been worth living, that it had been in apathetic
and feebly hostile and critical company, ugly in detail
and mean in scope and that it had brought him at last
to an outlook utterly hopeless and grey.
I have already had occasion to mention, indeed I have
quoted, a certain high-browed gentleman living at High-
bury, wearing a golden pince-nez and writing for the
most part in that beautiful room, the library of the Re-
form Club. There he wrestles with what he calls " social
problems " in a bloodless but at times, I think one must
THE LITTLE SHOP AT FISHBOURNE 183
admit, an extremely illuminating manner. He has a fixed
idea that something called a " collective intelligence " is
wanted in the world, which means in practice that you
and I and everyone have to think about things frightfully
hard and pool the results, and oblige ourselves to be
shamelessly and persistently clear and truthful and sup-
port and respect (I suppose) a perfect horde of profes-
sors and writers and artists and ill-groomed difficult
people, instead of using our brains in a moderate, sensible
manner to play golf and bridge (pretending a sense of
humour prevents our doing anything else with them)
and generally taking life in a nice, easy, gentlemanly way,
confound him ! Well, this dome-headed monster of in-
tellect alleges that Mr. Polly was unhappy entirely
"A rapidly complicating society," he writes, "which
as a whole declines to contemplate its future or face
the intricate problems of its organisation, is in exactly
the position of a man who takes no thought of dietary
or regimen, who abstains from baths and exercise and
gives his appetites free play. It accumulates useless and
aimless lives as a man accumulates fat and morbid prod-
ucts in his blood, it declines in its collective efficiency
and vigour and secretes discomfort and misery. Every
phase of its evolution is accompanied by a maximum of
avoidable distress and inconvenience and human
waste. . . .
" Nothing can better demonstrate the collective dul-
ness of our community, the crying need for a strenuous
184 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
intellectual renewal than the consideration of that vast
mass of useless, uncomfortable, under-educated, under-
trained and altogether pitiable people we contemplate
when we use that inaccurate and misleading term, the
Lower Middle Class. A great proportion of the lower
middle class should properly be assigned to the unem-
ployed and the unemployable. They are only not that,
because the possession of some small hoard of money, sav-
ings during a period of wage earning, an insurance policy
or suchlike capital, prevents a direct appeal to the rates.
But they are doing little or nothing for the community
in return for what they consume; they have no under-
standing of any relation of service to the community,
they have never been trained nor their imaginations
touched to any social purpose. A great proportion of
small shopkeepers, for example, are people who have,
through the inefficiency that comes from inadequate
training and sheer aimlessless, or improvements in ma-
chinery or the drift of trade, been thrown out of em-
ployment, and who set up in needless shops as a method
of eking out the savings upon which they count. They
contrive to make sixty or seventy per cent, of their ex-
penditure, the rest is drawn from the shrinking capital.
Essentially their lives are failures, not the sharp and
tragic failure of the labourer who gets out of work and
starves, but a slow, chronic process of consecutive small
losses which may end if the individual is exceptionally
fortunate in an impoverished death bed before actual
bankruptcy or destitution supervenes. Their chances of
THE LITTLE SHOP AT FISHBOURNE
ascendant means are less in their shops than in any lottery
that was ever planned. The secular development of
transit and communications has made the organisation of
distributing businesses upon large and economical lines,
inevitable ; except in the chaotic confusions of newly
opened countries, the day when a man might earn an
independent living by unskilled or practically unskilled
retailing has gone for ever. Yet every year sees the
melancholy procession towards petty bankruptcy and im-
prisonment for debt go on, and there is no statesman-
ship in us to avert it. Every issue of every trade journal
has its four or five columns of abridged bankruptcy
proceedings, nearly every item in which means the final
collapse of another struggling family upon the resources
of the community, and continually a fresh supply of
superfluous artisans and shop assistants, coming out of
employment with savings or ' help ' from relations, of
widows with a husband's insurance money, of the ill-
trained sons of parsimonious fathers, replaces the fallen
in the ill-equipped, jerry-built shops that everywhere
abound. . . ."
I quote these fragments from a gifted, if unpleasant,
contemporary for what they are worth. I feel this has
come in here as the broad aspect of this History. I come
back to Mr. Polly sitting upon his gate and swearing in
the east wind, and I so returning have a sense of floating
across unbridged abysses between the General and tha
Particular. There, on the one hand, is the man of under-
standing, seeing clearly 1 suppose he sees clearly the
186 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
big process that dooms millions of lives to thwarting and
discomfort and unhappy circumstances, and giving us no
help, no hint, by which we may get that better " collective
will and intelligence " which would dam the stream of
human failure, and, on the other hand, Mr. Polly sitting
on his gate, untrained, unwarned, confused, distressed,
angry, seeing nothing except that he is, as it were, net-
tled in greyness and discomfort with life dancing all
about him ; Mr. Polly with a capacity for joy and beauty
at least as keen and subtle as yours or mine.
I have hinted that our Mother England had equipped
Mr. Polly for the management of his internal concerns
no whit better than she had for the direction of his ex-
ternal affairs. With a careless generosity she affords
her children a variety of foods unparalleled in the
world's history, and including many condiments and
preserved preparations novel to the human economy.
And Miriam did the cooking. Mr. Polly's system, like a
confused and ill-governed democracy, had been brought
to a state of perpetual clamour and disorder, demanding
now evil and unsuitable internal satisfactions, such as
pickles and vinegar and the crackling on pork, and now
vindictive external expression, war and bloodshed
throughout the world. So that Mr. Polly had been led
into hatred and a series of disagreeable quarrels with his
landlord, his wholesalers, and most of his neighbours.
THE LITTLE SHOP AT FISHBOURNE 187
Rumbold, the china dealer next door, seemed hostile
from the first for no apparent reason, and always un-
packed his crates with a full back to his new neighbour,
and from the first Mr. Polly resented and hated that
uncivil breadth of expressionless humanity, wanted to
prod it, kick it, satirise it But you cannot satirise a
back, if you have no friend to nudge while you do it.
At last Mr. Polly could stand it no longer. He ap-
proached and prodded Rumbold.
" Ello ! " said Rumbold, suddenly erect and turned
" Can't we have some other point of view ? " said Mr
Polly. " I'm tired of the end elevation."
"Eh?" said Mr. Rumbold, frankly puzzled.
" Of all the vertebracious animals man alone raises
his face to the sky, O' Man. Well, why invert it?"
Rumbold shook his head with a helpless expression.
" Don't like so much Arreary Pensy."
Rumbold distressed in utter obscurity.
" In fact, I'm sick of your turning your back on me,
A great light shone on Rumbold. " That's what you're
talking about ! " he said.
" That's it," said Polly.
Rumbold scratched his ear with the three strawy jam-
pots he held in his hand. " Way the wind blows, I ex-
pect," he said. " But what's the fuss? "
" No fuss ! " said Mr. Polly. " Passing Remark. I
don't like it, O' Man, that's all."
188 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
" Can't help it, if the wind blows my stror," said Mr.
Rumbold, still far from clear about it. ...
" It isn't ordinary civility," said Mr. Polly.
"Got to unpack 'ow it suits me. Can't unpack with
the stror blowing into one's eyes."
" Needn't unpack like a pig rooting for truffles, need
" Needn't unpack like a pig."
Mr. Rumbold apprehended something.
" Pig ! " he said, impressed. " You calling me a
" It's the side I seem to get of you."
" 'Ere," said Mr. Rumbold, suddenly fierce and shout-
ing and marking his point with gesticulated jampots,
" you go indoors. I don't want no row with you, and I
don't want you to row with me. I don't know what
you're after, but I'm a peaceable man teetotaller, too,
and a good thing if you was. See? You go in-
" You mean to say I'm asking you civilly to stop
unpacking with your back to me."
" Pig ain't civil, and you ain't sober. You go indoors
and lemme go on unpacking. You you're excited."
" D'you mean ! " Mr. Polly was foiled.
He perceived an immense solidity about Rumbold.
" Get back to your shop and lemme get on with my
business," said Mr. Rumbold. " Stop calling me pigs.
See ? Sweep your pavemint."
THE LITTLE SHOP 'AT FISHBOURNE 189
" I came here to make a civil request."
" You came 'ere to make a row. I don't want no
truck with you. See? I don't like the looks of
you. See? And I can't stand 'ere all day arguing.
Pause of mutual inspection.
It occurred to Mr. Polly that probably he was to some
extent in the wrong.
Mr. Rumbold, blowing heavily, walked past him, de-
posited the jampots in his shop with an immense affec-
tation that there was no Mr. Polly in the world, returned,
turned a scornful back on Mr. Polly and dived to the
interior of the crate. Mr. Polly stood baffled. Should
he kick this solid mass before him? Should he admin-
ister a resounding kick?
He plunged his hands deeply into his trowser pockets,
began to whistle and returned to his own doorstep with
an air of profound unconcern. There for a time, to
the tune of " Men of Harlech," he contemplated the re-
ceding possibility of kicking Mr. Rumbold hard. It
would be splendid and for the moment satisfying. But
he decided not to do it. For indefinable reasons he
could not do it. He went indoors and straightened up
his dress ties very slowly and thoughtfully. Presently
he went to the window and regarded Mr. Rumbold
obliquely. Mr. Rumbold was still unpacking. . . .
Mr. Polly had no human intercourse thereafter witK
Rumbold for fifteen years. He kept up a Hate.
190 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
There was a time when it seemed as if Rumbold
might go, but he had a meeting of his creditors and then
went on unpacking as obtusely as ever.
Hinks, the saddler, two shops further down the street,
was a different case. Hinks was the aggressor practi-
Hinks was a sporting man in his way, with that taste
for checks in costume and tight trousers which is, under
Providence, so mysteriously and invariably associated
with equestrian proclivities. At first Mr. Polly took to
him as a character, became frequent in the God's Provi-
dence Inn under his guidance, stood and was stood
drinks and concealed a great ignorance of horses un-
til Hinks became urgent for him to play billiards or
Then Mr. Polly took to evading him, and Hinks
ceased to conceal his opinion that Mr. Polly was in reality
a softish sort of flat.
He did not, however, discontinue conversation with
Mr. Polly; he would come along to him whenever he
appeared at his door, and converse about sport and
women and fisticuffs and the pride of life with an air of
extreme initiation, until Mr. Polly felt himself the faint-
est underdeveloped intimation of a man that had ever
hovered on the verge of non-existence.
So he invented phrases for Hinks' clothes and took
fHE LITTLE SHOP AT FISHBOURNE 191
Rusper, the ironmonger, into his confidence upon the
weaknesses of Hinks. He called him the " Chequered
Careerist," and spoke of his patterned legs as " shivery
shakys." Good things of this sort are apt to get round
He was standing at his door one day, feeling bored,
when Hinks appeared down the street, stood still and
regarded him with a strange malignant expression for a
Mr. Polly waved a hand in a rather belated saluta-
Mr. Hinks spat on the pavement and appeared to re*
fleet. Then he came towards Mr. Polly portentously am
paused, and spoke between his teeth in an earnest con-
" You been flapping your mouth about me, I'm told,"
Mr. Polly felt suddenly spiritless. " Not that I know
<" he answered.
'* Not that you know of, be blowed ! You been flapping
" Don't see it," said Mr. Polly.
" Don't see it, be blowed ! You go flapping your silly
mouth about me and I'll give you a poke in the eye.
Mr. Hinks regarded the effect of this coldly but firmly,
and spat again.
" Understand me? " he enquired.
" Don't recollect," began Mr. Polly.
192 THE HISTORY, OF, MR. POLLY.
" Don't recollect, be blowed ! You flap your mouth a
dam sight too much. This place gets more of your
mouth than it wants. . . . Seen this ? "
And Mr. Hinks, having displayed a freckled fist of
extraordinary size and pugginess in an ostentatiously
familiar manner to Mr. Polly's close inspection by sight
and smell, turned it about this way and that and shaken it
gently for a moment or so, replaced it carefully in his
pocket as if for future use, receded slowly and watch-
fully for a pace, and then turned away as if to other
matters, and ceased to be even in outward seeming a
friend. . . .
Mr. Polly's intercourse with all his fellow tradesmen
was tarnished sooner or later by some such adverse inci-
dent, until not a friend remained to him, and loneliness
made even the shop door terrible. Shops bankrupted all
about him and fresh people came and new acquaintances
sprang up, but sooner or later a discord was inevitable,
the tension under which these badly fed, poorly housed,
bored and bothered neighbours lived, made it inevitable.
The mere fact that Mr. Polly had to see them every
day, that there was no getting away from them, was in
itself sufficient to make them almost unendurable to his
frettingly active mind.
Among other shopkeepers in the High Street there
was Chuffles, the grocer, a small, hairy, silently intent
polygamist, who was given rough music by the youth of
THE LITTLE SHOP AT FISH BOURNE 193
the neighbourhood because of a scandal about his wife's
sister, and who was nevertheless totally uninteresting, and
Tonks, the second grocer, an old man with an older,
very enfeebled wife, both submerged by piety. Tonks
went bankrupt, and was succeeded by a branch of the
National Provision Company, with a young manager
exactly like a fox, except that he barked. The toy and
sweetstuff shop was kept by an old woman of repellent
manners, and so was the little fish shop at the end of
the street. The Berlin-wool shop having gone bankrupt,
became a newspaper shop, then fell to a haberdasher in
consumption, and finally to a stationer; the three shops
at the end of the street wallowed in and out of insol-
vency in the hands of a bicycle repaiier and dealer, a
gramaphone dealer, a tobacconist, a sixpenny-halfpenny
bazaar-keeper, a shoemaker, a greengrocer, and the ex-
ploiter of a cinematograph peep-show but none of them
supplied friendship to Mr. Polly. These adventurers in
commerce were all more or less distraught souls, driving
without intelligible comment before the gale of fate.
The two milkmen of Fishbourne were brothers who had
quarrelled about their father's will, and started in op-
position to each other; one was stone deaf and no use
to Mr. Polly, and the other was a sporting man with a
natural dread of epithet who sided with Hinks. So it
was all about him, on every hand it seemed were uncon-
genial people, uninteresting people, or people who con-
ceived the deepest distrust and hostility towards him, a
magic circle of suspicious, preoccupied and dehumanised
194 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
humanity. So the poison in his system poisoned the
(But Boomer, the wine merchant, and Tashingford,
the chemist, be it noted, were fraught with pride, and
held themselves to be a cut above Mr. Polly. They never
quarrelled with him, preferring to bear themselves from
the outset as though they had already done so.)
As his internal malady grew upon Mr. Polly and he
became more and more a battle-ground of fermenting
foods and warring juices, he came to hate' the very
sight, as people say, of every one of these neighbours.
There they were, every day and all the days, just the
same, echoing his own stagnation. They pained him all
round the top and back of his head ; they made his legs
and arms weary and spiritless. The air was tasteless by
reason of them. He lost his human kindliness.
In the afternoons he would hover in the shop bored
to death with his business and his home and Miriam, and
yet afraid to go out because of his inflamed and magni-
fied dislike and dread of these neighbours. He could not
bring himself to go out and run the gauntlet of the ob-
servant windows and the cold estranged eyes.
One of his last friendships was with Rusper, the
ironmonger. Rusper took over Worthington's shop
about three years after Mr. Polly opened. He was a
tall, lean, nervous, convulsive man with an upturned,
back-thrown, oval head, who read newspapers and the
Review of Reviews assiduously, had belonged to a Liter-
ary Society somewhere once, and had some defect of the
THE LITTLE SHOP AT FISH BOURNE 195
palate that at first gave his lightest word a charm and
interest for Mr. Polly. It caused a peculiar clicking
sound, as though he had something between a giggle
and a gas-meter at work in his neck.
His literary admirations were not precisely Mr. Polly's
literary admirations; he thought books were written to
enshrine Great Thoughts, and that art was pedagogy in
fancy dress, he had no sense of phrase or epithet or
richness of texture, but still he knew there were books,
he did know there were books and he was full of large
windy ideas of the sort he called " Modern (kik)
Thought," and seemed needlessly and helplessly con-
cerned about "(kik) the Welfare of the Race."
Mr. Polly would dream about that (kik) at nights.
It seemed to that undesirable mind of his that Rusper's
head was the most egg-shaped head he had ever seen;
the similarity weighed upon him; and when he found
an argument growing warm with Rusper he would say:
" Boil it some more, O' Man ; boil it harder ! " or " Six
minutes at least," allusions Rusper could never make
head or tail of, and got at last to disregard as a part of
Mr. Polly's general eccentricity. For a long time that
little tendency threw no shadow over their intercourse,
but it contained within it the seeds of an ultimate dis-
Often during the days of this friendship Mr. Polly
would leave his shop and walk over to Mr. Rusper's
establishment, and stand in his doorway and enquire:
" Well, O' Man, how's the Mind of the Age working? "
196 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
and get quite an hour of it, and sometimes Mr. Rusper
would come into the outfitter's shop with " Heard the
(kik) latest?" and spend the rest of the morning.
Then Mr. Rusper married, and he married very in-
considerately a woman who was totally uninteresting to
Mr. Polly. A coolness grew between them from the
first intimation of her advent. Mr. Polly couldn't help
thinking when he saw her that she drew her hair back
from her forehead a great deal too tightly, and that her
elbows were angular. His desire not to mention these
things in the apt terms that welled up so richly in his
mind, made him awkward in her presence, and that
gave her an impression that he was hiding some guilty
secret from her. She decided he must have a bad in-
fluence upon her husband, and she made it a point to ap-
pear whenever she heard him talking to Rusper.
One day they became a little heated about the German
" I lay (kik) they'll invade us," said Rusper.
" Not a bit of it. William's not the Zerxiacious sort."
" You'll see, O' Man."
" Just what I shan't do."
" Before (kik) five years are out."
" Not it."
" Oh ! Boil it hard ! " said Mr. Polly.
Then he looked up and saw Mrs. Rusper standing be-
THE LITTLE SHOP AT FISH BOURNE 197
hind the counter half hidden by a trophy of spades and
garden shears and a knife-cleaning machine^ and by
her expression he knew instantly that she understood.
The conversation paled and presently Mr. Polly with-
After that, estrangement increased steadily.
Mr. Rusper ceased altogether to come over to the out-
fitter's, and Mr. Polly called upon the ironmonger only
with the completest air of casuality. And everything
they said to each other led now to flat contradiction and
raised voices. Rusper had been warned in vague and
alarming terms that Mr. Polly insulted and made game
of him; he couldn't discover exactly where; and so it
appeared to him now that every word of Mr. Polly's
might be an insult meriting his resentment, meriting it
none the less because it was masked and cloaked,
Soon Mr. Polly's calls upon Mr. Rusper ceased also,
and then Mr. Rusper, pursuing incomprehensible lines
of thought, became afflicted with a specialised short-
sightedness that applied only to Mr. Polly. He would
look in other directions when Mr. Polly appeared, and
his large oval face assumed an expression of conscious
serenity and deliberate happy unawareness that would
have maddened a far less irritable person than Mr. Polly.
It evoked a strong desire to mock and ape, and produced
in his throat a cough of singular scornfulness, more par-
ticularly when Mr. Rusper also assisted, with an as-
sumed unconsciousness that was all his own.
Then one day Mr. Polly had a bicycle accident.
198 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
His bicycle was now very old, and it is one of the
concomitants of a bicycle's senility that its free wheel
should one day obstinately cease to be free. It corre-
sponds to that epoch in human decay when an old gen-
tleman loses an incisor tooth. It happened just as Mr.
Polly was approaching Mr. Rusper's shop, and the un-
toward chance of a motor car trying to pass a waggon
on the wrong side gave Mr. Polly no choice but to get
on to the pavement and dismount. He was always ac-
customed to take his time and step off his left pedal at
its lowest point, but the jamming of the free wheel gear
made that lowest moment a transitory one, and the pedal
was lifting his foot for another revolution before he
realised what had happened. Before he could dismount
according to his habit the pedal had to make a revolu-
tion, and before it could make a revolution Mr. Polly
found himself among the various sonorous things with
which Mr. Rusper adorned the front of his shop, zinc
dustbins, household pails, lawn mowers, rakes, spades
and all manner of clattering things. Before he got
among them he had one of those agonising moments of
helpless wrath and suspense that seem to last ages, in
which one seems to perceive everything and think of
nothing but words that are better forgotten. He sent a
column of pails thundering across the doorway and dis-
mounted with one foot in a sanitary dustbin amidst an
enormous uproar of falling ironmongery.
"Put all over the place!" he cried, and found Mr.
Rusper emerging from his shop with the large tranquilli-
THE LITTLE SHOP AT FISH BOURNE 199
ties of his countenance puckered to anger, like the frowns
in the brow of a reefing sail. He gesticulated speech-
lessly for a moment.
" Kik jer doing?" he said at last
" Tin mantraps ! " said Mr. Polly.
"Jer (kik) doing?"
" Dressing all over the pavement as though the blessed
town belonged to you ! Ugh ! "
And Air. Polly in attempting a dignified movement
realised his entanglement with the dustbin for the first
time. With a low embittering expression he kicked his
foot about in it for a moment very noisily, and finally
sent it thundering to the curb. On its way it struck a
pail or so. Then Mr. Polly picked up his bicycle and
proposed to resume his homeward way. But the hand of
Mr. Rusper arrested him.
"Put it (kik) all (kik kik) back (kik)."
" Put it (kik) back yourself."
"You got (kik) put it back."
"Get out of the (kik) way."
Mr. Rusper laid one hand on the bicycle handle, and
the other gripped Mr. Polly's collar urgently. Where-
upon Mr. Polly said : " Leggo ! " and again, " D'you
hear! Leggo! " and then drove his elbow with consid-
erable force into the region of Mr. Rusper's midriff.
Whereupon Mr. Rusper, with a loud impassioned cry, re-
sembling " Woo kik " more than any other combination
of letters, released the bicycle handle, seized Mr. Polly
by the cap and hair and bore his head and shoulders
200 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY.
downward. Thereat Mr. Polly, emitting such words as
everyone knows and nobody prints, butted his utmost
into the concavity of Mr. Rusper, entwined a leg about
him and after terrific moments of swaying instability,
fell headlong beneath him amidst the bicycles and pails.
There on the pavement these inexpert children of a pacific
age, untrained in arms and uninured to violence, aban-
doned themselves to amateurish and absurd efforts to hurt
and injure one another of which the most palpable
consequences were dusty backs, ruffled hair and torn and
twisted collars. Mr. Polly, by accident, got his finger into
Mr. Rusper's mouth, and strove earnestly for some time
to prolong that aperture in the direction of Mr. Rusper's
ear before it occurred to Mr. Rusper to bite him (and
even then he didn't bite very hard), while Mr. Rusper
concentrated his mind almost entirely on an effort to rub
Mr. Polly's face on the pavement. (And their positions
bristled with chances of the deadliest sort!) They didn't
from first to last draw blood.
Then it seemed to each of them that the other had be-
come endowed with many hands and several voices and
great accessions of strength. They submitted to fate
and ceased to struggle. They found themselves torn
apart and held up by outwardly scandalised and in-
wardly delighted neighbours, and invited to explain what
it was all about.
"Got to (kik) puttem all back!" panted Mr. Rusper
in the expert grasp of Hinks. " Merely asked him to
(kik) puttem all back."
THE LITTLE SHOP 'AT FISH BOURNE 201
Mr. Polly was under restraint of little Clamp, of the
toy shop, who was holding his hands in a complex and
uncomfortable manner that he afterwards explained to
Wintershed was a combination of something romantic
called " Ju-jitsu " and something else still more romantic
called the " Police Grip."
" Pails," explained Mr. Polly in breathless fragments.
" All over the road. Pails. Bungs up the street with
his pails. Look at them ! "
" Deliber (kik) lib (kik) liberately rode into my
goods (kik). Constantly (kik) annoying me (kik)!"
said Mr. Rusper. . . .
They were both tremendously earnest and reasonable
in their manner. They wished everyone to regard them
as responsible and intellectual men acting for the love
of right and the enduring good of the \vorld. They felt
they must treat this business as a profound and publicly
significant affair. They wanted to explain and orate and
show the entire necessity of everything they had done.
Mr. Polly was convinced he had never been so abso-
lutely correct in all his life as when he planted his foot
in the sanitary dustbin, and Mr. Rusper considered his
clutch at Mr. Polly's hair as the one faultless impulse
in an otherwise undistinguished career. But it was clear
in their minds they might easily become ridiculous if
they were not careful, if for a second they stepped over
the edge of the high spirit and pitiless dignity they had
hitherto maintained. At any cost they perceived they;
must not become ridiculous.
202 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
Mr. Chuffles, the scandalous grocer, joined the throng
about the principal combatants, mutely as became an
utcast, and with a sad, distressed helpful expression
picked up Mr. Polly's bicycle. Gamb ell's summer er-
rand boy, moved by example, restored the dustbin and
pails to their self-respect.
" 'E ought 'E ought (kik) pick them up," protested
"What's it all about?" said Mr. Hinks for the third
time, shaking Mr. Rusper gently. " 'As 'e been calling
" Simply ran into his pails as anyone might," said
Mr. Polly, " and out he comes and scrags me ! "
" (Kik) Assault!" said Mr. Rusper.
" He assaulted me" said Mr. Polly.
"Jumped (kik) into my dus'bin!" said Mr. Rusper.
"That assault? Or isn't it?"
" You better drop it," said Mr. Hinks.
" Great pity they can't be'ave better, both of 'em,"
said Mr. Chuffles, glad for once to find himself morally
" Anyone see it begin? " said Mr. Wintershed.
" I was in the shop," said Mrs. Rusper suddenly from
the doorstep, piercing the little group of men and boys
with the sharp horror of an unexpected woman's voice.
" If a witness is wanted I suppose I've got a tongue. I
suppose I got a voice in seeing my own 'usband injured.
My husband went out and spoke to Mr. Polly, who was
jumping off his bicycle all among our pails and things,
THE LITTLE SHOP AT FISHBOURNE 203
and immediately 'E butted him in the stomach immedi-
ately most savagely butted him. Just after his dinner
too and him far from strong. I could have screamed.
But Rusper caught hold of him right away, I will say
that for Rusper. . . ."
" I'm going," said Mr. Polly suddenly, releasing him-
self from the Anglo-Japanese grip and holding out his
hands for his bicycle.
" Teach you (kik) to leave things alone," said
Mr. Rusper with an air of one who has given a les-
The testimony of Mrs. Rusper continued relentlessly in
"You'll hear of me through a summons," said Mr.
Polly, preparing to wheel his bicycle.
" (Kik) Me too," said Mr. Rusper.
Someone handed Mr. Polly a collar. " This yours ? "
Mr. Polly investigated his neck. " I suppose it is.
Anyone seen a tie ? "
A small boy produced a grimy strip of spotted blue
" Human life isn't safe with you," said Mr. Polly as a
" (Kik) Yours isn't," said Mr. Rusper. . . .
And they got small satisfaction out of the" Bench,
which refused altogether to perceive the relentless cor-
rectitude of the behaviour of either party, and reproved
the eagerness of Mrs. Rusper speaking to her gently,
firmly but exasperatingly as " My Good Woman " and
204 THE HISTORY. OF MR. POLLY
telling her to " Answer the Question ! Answer the
Question ! "
" Seems a Pity," said the chairman, when binding
them over to keep the peace, " you can't behave like Re-
spectable Tradesmen. Seems a Great Pity. Bad Exam-
ple to the Young and all that. Don't do any Good to
the town, don't do any Good to yourselves, don't do any
manner of Good, to have all the Tradesmen in the Place
scrapping about the Pavement of an Afternoon. Think
we're letting you off very easily this time, and hope it
will be a Warning to you. Don't expect Men of your
Position to come up before us. Very Regrettable Af-
He addressed the latter enquiry to his two col-
" Exactly, exactly," said the colleague to the right.
"Er (kik)," said Mr. Rusper.
But the disgust that overshadowed Mr. Polly's being
as he sat upon the stile, had other and profounder justi-
fication than his quarrel with Rusper and the indignity
of appearing before the county bench. He was for the
first time in his business career short with his rent for
the approaching quarter day, and so far as he could
trust his own handling of figures he was sixty or seventy
pounds on the wrong side of solvency. And that was
the outcome of fifteen years of passive endurance of dul-
THE LITTLE SHOP AT FISHBOURNE 205
ness throughout the best years of his life! What would
Miriam say when she learnt this, and was invited to
face the prospect of exile heaven knows what sort of
exile! from their present home? She would grumble
and scold and become limply unhelpful, he knew, and
none the less so because he could not help things. She
would say he ought to have worked harder, and a hun-
dred such exasperating pointless things. Such thoughts
as these require no aid from undigested cold pork and
cold potatoes and pickles to darken the soul, and with
these aids his soul was black indeed.
" May as well have a bit of a walk/' said Mr. Polly
at last, after nearly intolerable meditations, and sat round
and put a leg over the stile.
He remained still for some time before he brought
over the other leg.
" Kill myself," he murmured at last.
It was an idea that came back to his mind nowadays
with a continually increasing attractiveness more par-
ticularly after meals. Life he felt had no further happi-
ness to offer him. He hated Miriam, and there was no
getting away from her whatever might betide. And for
the rest there was toil and struggle, toil and struggle
with a failing heart and dwindling courage, to sustain
that dreary duologue. "Life's insured," said Mr. Polly;
" place is insured. I don't see it does any harm to her
He stuck his hands in his pockets. " Needn't hurt
much," he said. He began to elaborate a plan.
206 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
He found it quite interesting elaborating his plan.
His countenance became less miserable and his pace
There is nothing so good in all the world for mel-
ancholia as walking, and the exercise of the imagination
in planning something presently to be done, and soon
the wrathful wretchedness had vanished from Mr. Polly's
face. He would have to do the thing secretly and
elaborately, because otherwise there might be difficulties
about the life insurance. He began to scheme how he
could circumvent that difficulty. . . .
He took a long wrJk, for after all what is the good of
hurrying back to shop when you are not only insolvent
but very soon to die? His dinner and the east wind lost
their sinister hold upon his soul, and when at last he
came back along the Fishbourne High Street, his face
was unusually bright and the craving hunger of the
dyspeptic was returning. So he went into the grocer's
and bought a ruddily decorated tin of a brightly pink
fishlike substance known as " Deep Sea Salmon." This
he was resolved to consume regardless of cost with
vinegar and salt and pepper as a relish to his supper.
He did, and since he and Miriam rarely talked and
Miriam thought honour and his recent behaviour de-
manded a hostile silence, he ate fast, and copiously 5 and
soon gloomily. He ate alone, for she refrained, to mark
her sense of his extravagance. Then he prowled into
the High Street for a time, thought it an infernal place,
THE LITTLE SHOP AT FISHBOURNE 207
tried his pipe and found it foul and bitter, and retired
wearily to bed.
He slept for an hour or so and then woke up to the
contemplation of Miriam's hunched back and the riddle
of life, and this bright attractive idea of ending for ever
and ever and ever all the things that were locking him
in, this bright idea that shone like a baleful star above all
the reek and darkness of his misery. . . .
MAKING AN END TO THINGS
CHAPTER THE EIGHTH
MAKING AN END TO THINGS
MR. POLLY designed his suicide with consid-
erable care, and a quite remarkable altruism.
His passionate hatred for Miriam vanished
^directly the idea of getting away from her for ever be-
came clear in his mind. He found himself full of solici-
tude then for her welfare. He did not want to buy his
release at her expense. He had not the remotest inten-
tion of leaving her unprotected with a painfully dead
husband and a bankrupt shop on her hands. It seemed
to him that he could contrive to secure for her the full
benefit of both his life insurance and his fire insurance
if he managed things in a tactful manner. He felt hap-
pier than he had done for years scheming out this un-
dertaking, albeit it was perhaps a larger and somberer
kind of happiness than had fallen to his lot before. It
amazed him to think he had endured his monotony of
misery and failure for so long.
But there were some queer doubts and questions in
the dim, half-lit background of his mind that he had
very resolutely to ignore.
"Sick of it," he had to repeat to himself aloud, to
212 THE HISTORY OF. MR. POLLY
keep his determination clear and firm. His life was a
failure, there was nothing more to hope for but unhap-
piness. Why shouldn't he?
His project was to begin the fire with the stairs that
led from the ground floor to the underground kitchen
and scullery. This he would soak with paraffine, and
assist with firewood and paper, and a brisk fire in the
coal cellar underneath. He would smash a hole or so in
the stairs to ventilate the blaze, and have a good pile of
boxes and paper, and a convenient chair or so in the
shop above. He would have the paraffine can upset and
the shop lamp, as if awaiting refilling, at a convenient
distance in the scullery ready to catch. Then he would
smash the house lamp on the staircase, a fall with that
in his hand was to be the ostensible cause of the blaze,
and then he would cut his throat at the top of the kitchen
stairs, which would then become his funeral pyre. He
would do all this on Sunday evening while Miriam was
at church, and it would appear that he had fallen down-
stairs with the lamp, and been burnt to death. There
was really no flaw whatever that he could see in the
scheme. He was quite sure he knew how to cut his
throat, deep at the side and not to saw at the windpipe,
and he was reasonably sure it wouldn't hurt him very^
much. And then everything would be at an end.
There was no particular hurry to get the thing done,
of course, and meanwhile he occupied his mind with
possible variations of the scheme. . . .
It needed a particularly dry and dusty east wind, a
Sunday dinner of exceptional virulence, a conclusive let-
ter from Konk, Maybrick, Ghool and Gabbitas, his prin-
cipal and most urgent creditors, and a conversation with
Miriam arising out of arrears of rent and leading on to
mutual character sketching, before Mr. Polly could be
brought to the necessary pitch of despair to carry out
his plans. He went for an embittering walk, and came
back to find Miriam in a bad temper over the tea things,
with the brewings of three-quarters of an hour in the
pot, and hot buttered muffin gone leathery. He sat eat-
ing in silence with his resolution made.
" Coming to church ? " said Miriam after she had
"Rather. I got a lot to be grateful for," said Mr.
" You got what you deserve," said Miriam.
" Suppose I have," said Mr. Polly, and went and
stared out of the back window at a despondent horse in
the hotel yard.
He was still standing there when Miriam came down-
stairs dressed for church. Something in his immobility
struck home to her. " You'd better come to church than
mope," she said.
" I shan't mope," he answered.
She remained still for a moment. Her presence irri-
tated him. He felt that in another moment he should
say something absurd to her, make some last appeal for
that understanding she had never been able to give.
" Oh ! go to church ! " he said.
214 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
In another moment the outer door slammed upon
her. " Good riddance ! " said Mr. Polly.
He turned about. " I've had my whack," he said.
He reflected. " I don't see she'll have any cause to
holler," he said. "Beastly Home! Beastly Life!"
For a space he remained thoughtful. " Here goes ! "
he said at last.
For twenty minutes Mr. Polly busied himself about the
house, making his preparations very neatly and methodi-
He opened the attic windows in order to make sure of
a good draught through the house, and drew down the
blinds at the back and shut the kitchen door to conceal
his arrangements from casual observation. At the end
he would open the door on the yard and so make a clean
clear draught right through the house. He hacked at,
and wedged off, the tread of a stair. He cleared out the
coals from under the staircase, and built a neat fire of
firewood and paper there, he splashed about paraffine
and arranged the lamps and can even as he had designed,
and made a fine inflammable pile of things in the little
parlour behind the shop. " Looks pretty arsenical," he
said as he surveyed it all. " Wouldn't do to have a
caller now. Now for the stairs ! "
" Plenty of time," he assured himself, and took the
lamp which was to explain the whole affair, and went to
the head of the staircase between the scullery and the
MAKING AN END TO THINGS 215
parlour. He sat down in the twilight with the unlit lamp
beside him and surveyed things. He must light the fire
in the coal cellar under the stairs, open the back door,
then come up them very quickly and light the paraffine
puddles on each step, then sit down here again and cut
He drew his razor from his pocket and felt the edge.
It wouldn't hurt much, and in ten minutes he would be
indistinguishable ashes in the blaze.
And this was the end of life for him !
The end ! And it seemed to him now that life had
never begun for him, never ! It was as if his soul had
been cramped and his eyes bandaged from the hour of
his birth. Why had he lived such a life? Why had he
submitted to things, blundered into things? Why had
he never insisted on the things he thought beautiful and
the things he desired, never sought them, fought for
them, taken any risk for them, died rather than abandon
them? They were the things that mattered. Safety did
not matter. A living did not matter unless there were
things to live for. . . .
He had been a fool, a coward and a fool, he had been
fooled too, for no one had ever warned him to take a
firm hold upon life, no one had ever told him of the lit-
tleness of fear, or pain, or death ; but what was the good
of going through it now again? It was over and done
The clock in the back parlour pinged the half hour.
" Time ! " said Mr. Polly, and stood up.
216 THE HISTORY. OF MR. POLLY
For an instant he battled with an impulse to put it all
back, hastily, guiltily, and abandon this desperate plan
of suicide for ever.
But Miriam would smell the paraffine !
" No way out this time, O' Man," said Mr. Polly ; and
he went slowly downstairs, match box in hand.
He paused for five seconds, perhaps, to listen to noises
in the yard of the Royal Fishbourne Hotel before he
struck his match. It trembled a little in his hand. The
paper blackened, and an edge of blue flame ran outward
and spread. The fire burnt up readily, and in an instant
the wood was crackling cheerfully.
Someone might hear. He must hurry.
He lit a pool of paraffine on the scullery floor, and in-
stantly a nest of snaky, wavering blue flame became
agog for prey. He went up the stairs three steps at a
time with one eager blue flicker in pursuit of him. He
seized the lamp at the top. " Now ! " he said and flung
it smashing. The chimney broke, but the glass receiver
stood the shock and rolled to the bottom, a potential
bomb. Old Rumbold would hear that and wonder what
it was! . . . He'd know soon enough!
Then Mr. Polly stood hesitating, razor in hand, and
then sat down. He was trembling violently, but quite
He drew the blade lightly under one ear. " Lord ! "
but it stung like a nettle !
Then he perceived a little blue thread of flame run-
ning up his leg. It arrested his attention, and for a
MAKING AN END TO THINGS 217
moment he sat, razor in hand, staring at it. It must be
paraffine on his trousers that had caught fire on the
stairs. Of course his legs were wet with paraffine ! He
smacked the flicker with his hand to put it out, and felt
his leg burn as he did so. But his trousers still charred
and glowed. It seemed to him necessary that he must
put this out before he cut his throat. He put down the
razor beside him to smack with both hands very eagerly.
And as he did so a thin tall red flame came up through
the hole in the stairs he had made and stood still, quite
still as it seemed, and looked at him. It was a strange-
looking flame, a flattish salmon colour, redly streaked.
It was so queer and quiet mannered that the sight of it
held Mr. Polly agape.
" Whuff ! " went the can of paraffine below, and boiled
over with stinking white fire. At the outbreak the
salmon-coloured flames shivered and ducked and then
doubled and vanished, and instantly all the staircase was
Mr. Polly sprang up and backwards, as though the
uprushing tongues of fire were a pack of eager wolves.
" Good Lord ! " he cried like a man who wakes up
from a dream.
He swore sharply and slapped again at a recrudescent
flame upon his leg.
" What the Deuce shall I do ? I'm soaked with the
He had nerved himself for throat-cutting, but this was
218 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
He wanted to delay things, to put them out for a mo-
ment while he did his business. The idea of arresting
all this hurry with water occurred to him.
There was no water in the little parlour and none in
the shop. He hesitated for a moment whether he should
not run upstairs to the bedrooms and get a ewer of water
to throw on the flames. At this rate Rumbold's would
be ablaze in five minutes! Things were going all too
fast for Mr. Polly. He ran towards the staircase door,
and its hot breath pulled him up sharply. Then he dashed
out through his shop. The catch of the front door was
sometimes obstinate ; it was now, and instantly he became
frantic. He rattled and stormed and felt the parlour al-
ready ablaze behind him. In another moment he was in
the High Street with the door wide open.
The staircase behind him was crackling now like horse-
whips and pistol shots.
He had a vague sense that he wasn't doing as he had
proposed, but the chief thing was his sense of that un-
controlled fire within. What was he going to do?
There was the fire brigade station next door but
The Fishbourne High Street had never seemed so
Far off at the corner by the God's Providence Inn a
group of three stiff hobbledehoys in their black, best
clothes, conversed intermittently with Taplow, the po-
" Hi 1 " bawled Mr. Polly to them. " Fire ! Fire ! "
MAKING AN END TO THINGS 219
and struck by a horrible thought, the thought of Rum-
bold's deaf mother-in-law upstairs, began to bang and
kick and rattle with the utmost fury at Rumbold's shop
" Hi ! " he repeated, " Fire! "
That was the beginning of the great Fishbourne fire,
which burnt its way sideways into Mr. Rusper's piles of
crates and straw, and backwards to the petrol and sta-
bling of the Royal Fishbourne Hotel, and spread from
that basis until it seemed half Fishbourne would be
ablaze. The east wind, which had been gathering in
strength all that day, fanned the flame; everything was
dry and ready, and the little shed beyond Rumbold's in
which the local Fire Brigade kept its manual, was alight
before the Fishbourne fire hose could be saved from
disaster. In marvellously little time a great column of
black smoke, shot with red streamers, rose out of the
middle of the High Street, and all Fishbourne was alive
Much of the more respectable elements of Fishbourne
society was in church or chapel; many, however, had
been tempted by the blue sky and the hard freshness of
spring to take walks inland, and there had been the usual
disappearance of loungers and conversationalists from
the beach and the back streets when at the hour of six the
shooting of bolts and the turning of keys had ended the
220 THE HISTORY OF. MR. POLLY
British Ramadan, that weekly interlude of drought our
law imposes. The youth of the place were scattered on
the beach or playing in back yards, under threat if their
clothes were dirtied, and the adolescent were disposed
in pairs among the more secluded corners to be found
upon the outskirts of the place. Several godless youths,
seasick but fishing steadily, were tossing upon the sea
in old Tarbold's, the infidel's, boat, and the Clamps were
entertaining cousins from Port Burdock. Such few
visitors as Fishbourne could boast in the spring were at
church or on the beach. To all these that column of
smoke did in a manner address itself. " Look here ! " it
said, " this, within limits, is your affair ; what are you
going to do ? "
The three hobbledehoys, had it been a weekday and
they in working clothes, might have felt free to act, but
the stiffness of black was upon them and they simply
moved to the corner by Rusper's to take a better view
of Mr. Polly beating at the door. The policeman was a
young, inexpert constable with far too lively a sense of
the public house. He put his head inside the Private
Bar to the horror of everyone there. But there was no
breach of the law, thank Heaven ! " Polly's and Rum-
bold's on fire ! " he said, and vanished again. A window
in the top story over Boomer's shop opened, and
Boomer, captain of the Fire Brigade, appeared, staring
out with a blank expression. Still staring, he began to
fumble with his collar and tie; manifestly he had to put
on his uniform. Hinks' dog, which had been lying on
MAKING AN END TO THINGS 221
the pavement outside Watershed's, woke up, and having
regarded Mr. Polly suspiciously for some time, growled
nervously and went round the corner into Granville Alley.
Mr. Polly continued to beat and kick at Rumbold's
Then the public houses began to vomit forth the less
desirable elements of Fishbourne society, boys and men
were moved to run and shout, and more windows went
up as the stir increased. Tashingford, the chemist, ap-
peared at his door, in shirt sleeves and an apron, with
his photographic plate holders in his hand. And then
like a vision of purpose came Mr. Gambell, the green-
grocer, running out of Clayford's Alley and buttoning
on his jacket as he ran. His great brass fireman's hel-
met was on his head, hiding it all but the sharp nose,
the firm mouth, the intrepid chin. He ran straight to
the fire station and tried the door, and turned about and
met the eye of Boomer still at his upper window. " The
key!" cried Mr. Gambell, "the key!"
Mr. Boomer made some inaudible explanation about
his trousers and half a minute.
"Seen old Rumbold?" cried Mr. Polly, approaching
" Gone over Downford for a walk," said Mr. Gam-
bell. " He told me ! But look 'ere ! We 'aven't got the
" Lord ! " said Mr. Polly, and regarded the china shop
with open eyes. He knew the old woman must be there
alone. He went back to the shop front and stood sur-
222 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
veying it in infinite perplexity. The other activities in
the street did not interest him. A deaf old lady some-
where upstairs there ! Precious moments passing ! Sud-
denly he was struck by an idea and vanished from pub-
lic vision into the open door of the Royal Fishbourne
And now the street was getting crowded and people
were laying their hands to this and that.
Mr. Rusper had been at home reading a number of
tracts upon Tariff Reform, during the quiet of his wife's
absence in church, and trying to work out the applica-
tion of the whole question to ironmongery. He heard a
clattering in the street and for a time disregarded it,
until a cry of Fire! drew him to the window. He
pencilled-marked the tract of Chiozza Money's that he
was reading side by side with one by Mr. Holt School-
ing, made a hasty note " Bal. of Trade say 12,000,000 "
and went to look out. Instantly he opened the window
and ceased to believe the Fiscal Question the most urgent
of human affairs.
" Good (kik) Gud ! " said Mr. Rusper.
For now the rapidly spreading blaze had forced the
partition into Mr. Rumbold's premises, swept across
his cellar, clambered his garden wall by means of his
well-tarred mushroom shed, and assailed the engine
house. It stayed not to consume, but ran as a thing that
seeks a quarry. Polly's shop and upper parts were al-
ready a furnace, and black smoke was coming out of
Rumbold's cellar gratings. The fire in the engine house
MAKING AN END TO THINGS 223
showed only as a sudden rush of smoke from the back,
like something suddenly blown up. The fire brigade,
still much under strength, were now hard at work in the
front of the latter building; they had got the door open
all too late, they had "escued the fire escape and some
buckets, and were now lugging out their manual, with
the hose already a dripping mass of molten, flaring,
stinking rubber. Boomer was dancing about and swear-
ing and shouting; this direct attack upon his apparatus
outraged his sense of chivalry. The rest of the brigade
hovered in a disheartened state about the rescued fire
escape, and tried to piece Boomer's comments into some
" Hi ! " said Rusper from the window. " Kik ! What's
Gambell answered him out of his helmet. " Hose ! "
he cried. " Hose gone ! "
" I (kik) got hose! " cried Rusper.
He had. He had a stock of several thousand feet
of garden hose, of various qualities and calibres, and now
he felt was the time to use it. In another moment his
shop door was open and he was hurling pails, garden
syringes, and rolls of garden hose out upon the pave-
ment. " (Kik)," he cried, "undo it!" to the gathering
crowd in the roadway.
They did. Presently a hundred ready hands were
unrolling and spreading and tangling up and twisting
and hopelessly involving Mr. Rusper's stock of hose,
sustained by an unquenchable assurance that presently
224 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
it would in some manner contain and convey water, and
Mr. Rusper, on his knees, kicking violently, became in-
credibly busy with wire and brass junctions and all
sorts of mysteries.
" Fix it to the (kik) bathroom tap ! " said Mr.
Next door to the fire station was Mantell and Throb-
son's, the little Fishbourne branch of that celebrated
firm, and Mr. Boomer, seeking in a teeming mind for a
plan of action, had determined to save this building.
" Someone telephone to the Port Burdock and Hamp-
stead-on-Sea fire brigades," he cried to the crowd and
then to his fellows: " Cut away the woodwork of the
fire station ! " and so led the way into the blaze with
a whirling hatchet that effected wonders in no time in
But it was not, after all, such a bad idea of his.
Mantell and Throbsons was separated from the fire
station in front by a covered glass passage, and at the
back the roof of a big outhouse sloped down to the fire
station leads. The sturdy 'longshoremen, who made up
the bulk of the fire brigade, assailed the glass roof of the
passage with extraordinary gusto, and made a smashing
of glass that drowned for a time the rising uproar of
A number of willing volunteers started off to the
new telephone office in obedience to Mr. Boomer's re-
quest, only to be told with cold official politeness by the
young lady at the exchange that all that had been done
on her own initiative ten minutes ago. She parleyed
with these heated enthusiasts for a space, and then re-
turned to the window.
And indeed the spectacle was well worth looking at.
The dusk was falling, and the flames were showing bril-
liantly at half a dozen points. The Royal Fishbourne
Hotel Tap, which adjoined Mr. Polly to the west, was be-
ing kept wet by the enthusiastic efforts of a string of vol-
unteers with buckets of water, and above at a bathroom
window the little German waiter was busy with the garden
hose. But Mr. Polly's establishment looked more like
a house afire than most houses on fire contrive to look
from start to finish. Every window showed eager flick-
ering flames, and flames like serpents' tongues were lick-
ing out of three large holes in the roof, which was
already beginning to fall in. Behind, larger and abun-
dantly spark-shot gusts of fire rose from the fodder that
was now getting alight in the Royal Fishbourne Hotel
stables. Next door to Mr. Polly, Mr. Rumbold's house
was disgorging black smoke from the gratings that pro-
tected its underground windows, and smoke and occa-
sional shivers of flame were also coming out of its
first-floor windows. The fire station was better alight
at the back than in front, and its woodwork burnt pretty
briskly with peculiar greenish flickerings, and a pungent
flavour. In the street an inaggressively disorderly
crowd clambered over the rescued fire escape and resisted
the attempts of the three local constables to get it away
from the danger of Mr. Polly's tottering fagade, a clus-
226 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
ter of busy forms danced and shouted and advised on the
noisy and smashing attempt to cut off Mantell and
Throbson's from the fire station that was still in inef-
fectual progress. Further a number of people appeared
to be destroying interminable red and grey snakes un-
der the heated direction of Mr. Rusper ; it was as if the
High Street had a plague of worms, and beyond again
the more timid and less active crowded in front of an
accumulation of arrested traffic. Most of the men were
in Sabbatical black, and this and the white and starched
quality of the women and children in their best clothes
gave a note of ceremony to the whole affair.
For a moment the attention of the telephone clerk
was held by the activities of Mr. Tashingford, the chem-
ist, who, regardless of everyone else, was rushing across
the road hurling fire grenades into the fire station and
running back for more, and then her eyes lifted to the
slanting outhouse roof that went up to a ridge behind
the parapet of Mantell and Throbson's. An expression
of incredulity came into the telephone operator's eyes
and gave place to hard activity. She flung up the win-
dow and screamed out : " Two people on the roof up
there ! Two people on the roof ! "
Her eyes had not deceived her. Two figures which
had emerged from the upper staircase window of Mr.
Rumbold's and had got after a perilous paddle in his
MAKING AN END TO THINGS 227
cistern, on to the fire station, were now slowly but reso-
lutely clambering up the outhouse roof towards the back
of the main premises of Messrs. Mantell and Throbson's.
They clambered slowly and one urged and helped the
other, slipping and pausing ever and again, amidst a con-
stant trickle of fragments of broken tile.
One was Mr. Polly, with his hair wildly disordered,
his face covered with black smudges and streaked with
perspiration, and his trouser legs scorched and blackened ;
the other was an elderly lady, quietly but becomingly
dressed in black, with small white frills at her neck and
wrists and a Sunday cap of ecru lace enlivened with
a black velvet bow. Her hair was brushed back from
her wrinkled brow and plastered down tightly, meeting
in a small knob behind; her wrinkled mouth bore that
expression of supreme resolution common with the
toothless aged. She was shaky, not with fear, but with
the vibrations natural to her years, and she spoke with
the slow quavering firmness of the very aged.
" I don't mind scrambling," she said with piping inflex-
ibility, " but I can't jump and I wunt jump."
" Scramble, old lady, then scramble ! " said Mr. Polly,
pulling her arm. " It's one up and two down on these
" It's not what I'm used to," she said.
" Stick to it ! " said Mr. Polly, " live and learn," and
got to the ridge and grasped at her arm to pull her after
" I can't jump, mind ye," she repeated, pressing her
228 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
lips together. " And old ladies like me mustn't be
" Well, let's get as high as possible anyhow ! " said
Mr. Polly, urging her gently upward. " Shinning up
a water-spout in your line? Near as you'll get to
" I can't jump," she said. " I can do anything but
" Hold on ! " said Mr. Polly, " while I give you a boost.
" So long as it isn't jumping. . . ."
The old lady grasped the parapet above, and there
was a moment of intense struggle.
"Urup!" said Mr. Polly. "Hold on! Gollys!
where's she gone to? . . ."
Then an ill-mended, wavering, yet very reassuring
spring side boot appeared for an instant.
" Thought perhaps there wasn't any roof there ! " he
explained, scrambling up over the parapet beside her.
" I've never been out on a roof before," said the old
lady. " I'm all disconnected. It's very bumpy. Espe-
cially that last bit. Can't we sit here for a bit and rest?
I'm not the girl I useto be."
" You sit here ten minutes," shouted Mr. Polly, " and
you'll pop like a roast chestnut. Don't understand me?
Roast chestnut! ROAST CHESTNUT! POP! There ought
to be a limit to deafness. Come on round to the front
and see if we can find an attic window. Look at this
smoke ! "
MAKING AN END TO THINGS 229
" Nasty ! " said the old lady, her eyes following his
gesture, puckering her face into an expression of great
" Can't hear a word you say."
He pulled her arm. " Come on ! "
She paused for a moment to relieve herself of a series
of entirely unexpected chuckles. " Sich goings on ! " she
said, " I never did ! Where's he going now ? " and came
along behind the parapet to the front of the drapery
Below, the street was now fully alive to their pres-
ence, and encouraged the appearance of their heads by
shouts and cheers. A sort of free fight was going on
round the fire escape, order represented by Mr. Boomer
and the very young policeman, and disorder by some par-
tially intoxicated volunteers with views of their own
about the manipulation of the apparatus. Two or three
lengths of Mr. Rusper's garden hose appeared to have
twined themselves round the ladder. Mr. Polly watched
the struggle with a certain impatience, and glanced ever
and again over his shoulder at the increasing volume
of smoke and steam that was pouring up from the
burning fire station. He decided to break an attic win-
dow and get in, and so try and get down through the
shop. He found himself in a little bedroom, and re-
turned to fetch his charge. For some time he could
not make her understand his purpose.
" Got to come at once ! " he shouted.
230 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
" I hain't 'ad sich a time for years ! " said the old
" We'll have to get down through the house ! "
" Can't do no jumpin'," said the old lady. " No ! "
She yielded reluctantly to his grasp.
She stared over the parapet. " Runnin' and scurry-
ing about like black beetles in a kitchin/' she said.
"We've got to hurry."
" Mr. Rumbold 'E's a very Quiet man. 'E likes every-
thing Quiet. He'll be surprised to see me 'ere ! Why !
there 'e is ! " She fumbled in her garments mysteri-
ously and at last produced a wrinkled pocket handker-
chief and began to wave it.
" Oh, come ON ! " cried Mr. Polly, and seized her.
He got her into the attic, but the staircase, he found,
was full of suffocating smoke, and he dared not venture
below the next floor. He took her into a long dormi-
tory, shut the door on those pungent and pervasive
fumes, and opened the window to discover the fire escape
was now against the house, and all Fishbourne boiling
with excitement as an immensely helmeted and active and
resolute little figure ascended. In another moment the
rescuer stared over the windowsill, heroic, but just a
trifle self-conscious and grotesque.
" Lawks a mussy ! " said the old lady. " Wonders and
Wonders! Why! it's Mr. Gambell! 'Iding 'is 'ed in
that thing ! I never did ! "
" Can we get her out ? " said Mr. Gambell. " There's
not much time."
MAKING AN END TO THINGS 231
" He might git stuck in it."
" You'll get stuck in it," said Mr. Polly, " come
" Not for jumpin' I don't," said the old lady, under-
standing his gestures rather than his words. " Not a bit
of it. I hain't no good at jumping and I wunt."
They urged her gently but firmly towards the window.
" You lemme do it my own way," said the old lady
at the sill. . . .
" I could do it better if 'e'd take it off."
" Oh ! carm on ! "
" It's wuss than Carter's stile," she said, " before they
mended it. With a cow a-looking at you."
Mr. Gambell hovered protectingly below. Mr. Polly
steered her aged limbs from above. An anxious crowd
below babbled advice and did its best to upset the fire
escape. Within, streamers of black smoke were pouring
up through the cracks in the floor. For some seconds
the world waited while the old lady gave herself up to
reckless mirth again. " Sich times ! " she said, and
Slowly they descended, and Mr. Polly remained at the
post of danger steadying the long ladder until the old
lady was in safety below and sheltered by Mr. Rum-
bold (who was in tears) and the young policeman from
the urgent congratulations of the crowd. The crowd
was full of an impotent passion to participate. Those
nearest wanted to shake her hand, those remoter cheered.
" The fust fire I was ever in and likely to be my last.
232 THE HISTORY. OF MR. POLLY
It's a scurryin', 'urryin' business, but I'm real glad I
haven't missed it," said the old lady as she was borne
rather than led towards the refuge of the Temperance
Also she was heard to remark : " 'E was saying some-
thing about 'ot chestnuts. 7 'aven't 'ad no 'ot chest-
Then the crowd became aware of Mr. Polly awkwardly
negotiating the top rungs of the fire escape. " 'Ere 'e
comes ! " cried a voice, and Mr. Polly descended into the
world again out of the conflagration he had lit to be his
funeral pyre, moist, excited, and tremendously alive,
amidst a tempest of applause. As he got lower and
lower the crowd howled like a pack of dogs at him.
Impatient men unable to wait for him seized and shook
his descending boots, and so brought him to earth with
a run. He was rescued with difficulty from an enthu-
siast who wished to slake at his own expense and to his
own accompaniment a thirst altogether heroic. He was
hauled into the Temperance Hotel and flung like a
sack, breathless and helpless, into the tear-wet embrace
With the dusk and the arrival of some county con-
stabulary, and first one and presently two other fire en-
gines from Port Burdock and Hampstead-on-Sea, the
local talent of Fishbourne found itself forced back into
a secondary, less responsible and more observant role.
MAKING AN END TO THINGS . 233
I will not pursue the story of the fire to its ashes, nor
will I do more than glance at the unfortunate Mr. Rus-
per, a modern Laocoon, vainly trying to retrieve his
scattered hose amidst the tramplings and rushings of
the Port Burdock experts.
In a small sitting-room of the Fishbourne Temperance
Hotel a little group of Fishbourne tradesmen sat and
conversed in fragments and anon went to the window
and looked out upon the smoking desolation of their
homes across the way, and anon sat down again. They
and their families were the guests of old Lady Bar-
grave, who had displayed the utmost sympathy and inter-
est in their misfortunes. She had taken several people
into her own house at Everdean, had engaged the Tem-
perance Hotel as a temporary refuge, and personally
superintended the housing of Mantell and Throbson's
homeless assistants. The Temperance Hotel became
and remained extremely noisy and congested, with peo-
ple sitting about anywhere, conversing in fragments and
totally unable to get themselves to bed. The manager
was an old soldier, and following the best traditions of
the service saw that everyone had hot cocoa. Hot cocoa
seemed to be about everywhere, and it was no doubt very
heartening and sustaining to everyone. When the man-
ager detected anyone disposed to be drooping or pensive
he exhorted that person at once to drink further hot
cocoa and maintain a stout heart.
The hero of the occasion, the centre of interest, was
Mr. Polly. For he had not only caused the fire by up-
234 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
setting a lighted lamp, scorching his trousers and nar-
rowly escaping death, as indeed he had now explained
in detail about twenty times, but he had further thought
at once of that amiable but helpless old lady next door,
had shown the utmost decision in making his way to
her over the yard wall of the Royal Fishbourne Hotel,
and had rescued her with persistence and vigour in spite
of the levity natural to her years. Everyone thought well
of him and was anxious to show it, more especially by
shaking his hand painfully and repeatedly. Mr. Rum-
bold, breaking a silence of nearly fifteen years, thanked
him profusely, said he had never understood him prop-
erly and declared he ought to have a medal. There
seemed to be a widely diffused idea that Mr. Polly ought
to have a medal. Hinks thought so. He declared, more-
over, and with the utmost emphasis, that Mr. Polly had
a crowded and richly decorated interior or words to
that effect. There was something apologetic in this per-
sistence ; it was as if he regretted past intimations that
Mr. Polly was internally defective and hollow. He also
said that Mr. Polly was a " white man," albeit, as he
developed it, with a liver of the deepest chromatic satis-
Mr. Polly wandered centrally through it all, with his
face washed and his hair carefully brushed and parted,
looking modest and more than a little absent-minded,
and wearing a pair of black dress trowsers belonging to
the manager of the Temperance Hotel, a larger man
than himself in every way.
He drifted upstairs to his fellow-tradesmen, and stood
for a time staring into the littered street, with its pools
of water and extinguished gas lamps. His companions
in misfortune resumed a fragmentary disconnected con-
versation. They touched now on one aspect of the dis-
aster and now on another, and there were intervals of
silence. More or less empty cocoa cups were distributed
over the table, mantelshelf and piano, and in the middle
of the table was a tin of biscuits, into which Mr. Rum-
bold, sitting round-shoulderedly, dipped ever and again
in an absent-minded way, and munched like a distant
shooting of coals. It added to the solemnity of the affair
that nearly all of them were in their black Sunday clothes ;
little Clamp was particularly impressive and dignified
in a wide open frock coat, a Gladstone-shaped paper
collar, and a large white and blue tie. They felt that
they were in the presence of a great disaster, the sort of
disaster that gets into the papers, and is even illus-
trated by blurred photographs of the crumbling ruins.
In the presence of that sort of disaster all honourable
men are lugubrious and sententious.
And yet it is impossible to deny a certain element of
elation. Not one of those excellent men but was already
realising that a great door had opened, as it were, in the
opaque fabric of destiny, that they were to get their
money again that had seemed sunken for ever beyond
any hope in the deeps of retail trade. Life was already
in their imagination rising like a Phoenix from the
236 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
"I suppose there'll be a public subscription," said
" Not for those who're insured," said Mr. Winter-
" I was thinking of them assistants from Mantell and
Throbson's. They must have lost nearly everything."
"They'll be looked after all right," said Mr. Rum-
bold. " Never fear."
"I'm insured," said Mr. Clamp, with unconcealed
satisfaction. " Royal Salamander."
" Same here," said Mr. Wintershed.
" Mine's the Glasgow Sun," Mr. Hinks remarked.
" Very good company."
"You insured, Mr. Polly?"
" He deserves to be," said Rumbold.
" Ra-ther," said Hinks. " Blowed if he don't. Hard
lines it -would be if there wasn't something for him."
" Commercial and General," answered Mr. Polly over
his shoulder, still staring out of the window. " Oh !
I'm all right."
The topic dropped for a time, though manifestly it con-
tinued to exercise their minds.
" It's cleared me out of a lot of old stock," said Mr.
Wintershed ; " that's one good thing."
The remark was felt to be in rather questionable taste,
and still more so was his next comment.
" Rusper's a bit sick it didn't reach 'im."
Everyone looked uncomfortable, and no one was will-
MAKING AN END TO THINGS 237
ing to point the reason why Rusper should be a bit
" Rusper's been playing a game of his own," said
Hinks. " Wonder what he thought he was up to ! Sit-
tin' in the middle of the road with a pair of tweezers
he was, and about a yard of wire mending somethin'.
Wonder he warn't run over by the Port Burdock en-
Presently a little chat sprang up upon the causes of
fires, and Mr. Polly was moved to tell how it had hap-
pened for the one and twentieth time. His story had
now become as circumstantial and exact as the evidence
of a police witness. " Upset the lamp," he said. " I'd
just lighted it, I was going upstairs, and my foot slipped
against where one of the treads was a bit rotten, and
down I went. Thing was aflare in a moment ! . . ."
He yawned at the end of the discussion, and moved
" So long," said Mr. Polly.
" Good night," said Mr. Rumbold. " You played a
brave man's part! If you don't get a medal "
He left an eloquent pause.
" 'Ear, 'ear ! " said Mr. Wintershed and Mr. Clamp.
"Goo'night, O' Man," said Mr. Hinks.
" Goo'night All," said Mr. Polly . . .
He went slowly upstairs. The vague perplexity com-
mon to popular heroes pervaded his mind. He entered
the bedroom and turned up the electric light. It was
quite a pleasant room, one of the best in the Temperance
238 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
Hotel, with a nice clean flowered wallpaper, and a very
large looking-glass. Miriam appeared to be asleep, and
her shoulders were humped up under the clothes in a
shapeless, forbidding lump that Mr. Polly had found ut-
terly loathsome for fifteen years. He went softly over
to the dressing-table and surveyed himself thoughtfully.
Presently he hitched up the trowsers. " Miles too big
for me," he remarked. " Funny not to have a pair of
breeches of one's own. . . . Like being born again.
Naked came I into the world. . . ."
Miriam stirred and rolled over, and stared at him.
" Hello ! " she said.
"Come to bed?"
" It's three."
Pause, while Mr. Polly disrobed slowly.
" I been thinking," said Miriam. " It isn't going to
be so bad after all. We shall get your insurance. We
can easy begin all over again."
" H'm," said Mr. Polly.
She turned her face away from him and reflected.
" Get a better house," said Miriam, regarding the
wallpaper pattern. " I've always 'ated them stairs."
Mr. Polly removed a boot.
" Choose a better position where there's more doing,"
murmured Miriam. . . .
" Not half so bad," she whispered. . . .
" You wanted stirring up," she said, half asleep. . . .
MAKING AN END TO THINGS 239
It dawned upon Mr. Polly for the first time that he
had forgotten something.
He ought to have cut his throat!
The fact struck him as remarkable, but as now no
longer of any particular urgency. It seemed a thing far
off in the past, and he wondered why he had not thought
of it before. Odd thing life is! If he had done it he
would never have seen this clean and agreeable apart-
ment with the electric light. . . . His thoughts wan-
dered into a question of detail. Where could he have
put the razor down? Somewhere in the little room be-
hind the shop, he supposed, but he could not think where
more precisely. Anyhow it didn't matter now.
He undressed himself calmly, got into bed, and fell
asleep almost immediately.
THE POTWELL INN
CHAPTER THE NINTH
THE POTWELL INN
BUT when a man has once broken through the
paper walls of everyday circumstance, those un-
substantial walls that hold so many of us securely
prisoned from the cradle to the grave, he has made a
discovery. If the world does not please you you can
thange it. Determine to alter it at any price, and you
can change it altogether. You may change it to some-
thing sinister and angry, to something appalling, but
it may be you will change it to something brighter, some-
thing more agreeable, and at the worst something much
more interesting. There is only one sort of man who is
absolutely to blame for his own misery, and that is the
man who finds life dull and dreary. There are no cir-
cumstances in the world that determined action cannot
alter, unless perhaps they are the walls of a prison cell,
and even those will dissolve and change, I am told, into
the infirmary compartment at any rate, for the man who
can fast with resolution. I give these things as facts
and information, and with no moral intimations. And
Mr. Polly lying awake at nights, with a renewed indi-
244 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY.
gestion, with Miriam sleeping sonorously beside him and
a general air of inevitableness about his situation, saw
through it, understood there was no inevitable any more,
and escaped his former despair.
He could, for example, " clear out."
It became a wonderful and alluring phrase to him :
Why had he never thought of clearing out before?
He was amazed and a little shocked at the unimagina-
tive and superfluous criminality in him that had turned
old cramped and stagnant Fishbourne into a blaze and
new beginnings. (I wish from the bottom of my heart
I could add that he was properly sorry.) But something
constricting and restrained seemed to have been de-
stroyed by that flare. Fishbourne wasn't the world.
That was the new, the essential fact of which he had
lived so lamentably in ignorance. Fishbourne as he had
known it and hated it, so that he wanted to kill himself
to get out of it, wasn't the world.
The insurance money he was to receive made every-
-thing_' humane and kindly and practicable. He would
i<" clear out," with justice and humanity. He would
take exactly twenty-one pounds, and all the rest he would
leave to Miriam. That seemed to him absolutely fair.
Without him, she could do all sorts of things all
the sorts of things she was constantly urging him to
And he would go off along the white road that led
to Garchester, and on to Crogate and so to Tunbridge
THE POT WELL INN 245
Wells, where there was a Toad Rock he had heard of,
but never seen. (It seemed to him this must needs be
a marvel.) And so to other towns and cities. He would
walk and loiter by the way, and sleep in inns at night,
and get an odd job here and there and talk to strange
people. Perhaps he would get quite a lot of work and
prosper, and if he did not do so he would lie down in
front of a train, or wait for a warm night, and then
fall into some smooth, broad river. Not so bad as sit-
ting down to a dentist, not nearly so bad. And he would
never open a shop any more. Never!
So the possibilities of the future presented themselves
to Mr. Polly as he lay awake at nights.
It was springtime, and in the woods so soon as one
got out of reach of the sea wind there would be anemones
A month later a leisurely and dusty tramp, plump
equatorially and slightly bald, with his hands in his
pockets and his lips puckered to a contemplative whistle,
strolled along the river bank between Uppingdon and
Potwell. It was a profusely budding spring day and
greens such as God had never permitted in the world
before in human memory (though indeed they come every
year), were mirrored vividly in a mirror of equally un-
precedented brown. For a time the wanderer stopped
and stood still, and even the thin whistle died away from
his lips as he watched a water vole run to and fro upon
246 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
a little headland across the stream. The vole plopped
into the water and swam and dived and only when the last
ring of its disturbance had vanished did Mr. Polly re-
sume his thoughtful course to nowhere in particular.
For the first time in many years he had been leading
a healthy human life, living constantly in the open air,
walking every day for eight or nine hours, eating spar-
ingly^ accepting every conversational opportunity, not
even disdaining the discussion of possible work. And
beyond mending a hole in his coat that he had made
while negotiating barbed wire, with a borrowed needle
and thread in a lodging house, he had done no work at
all. Neither had he worried about business nor about
time and seasons. And for the first time in his life he
had seen the Aurora Borealis.
So far the holiday had cost him very little. He had
arranged it on a plan that was entirely his own. He had
started with four five-pound notes and a pound divided
into silver, and he had gone by train from Fishbourne to
Ashington. At Ashington he had gone to the post-
office, obtained a registered letter, and sent his four five-
pound notes with a short brotherly note addressed to
himself at Gilhampton Post-office. He sent this letter
to Gilhampton for no other reason in the world than that
he liked the name of Gilhampton and the rural sugges-
tion of its containing county, which was Sussex, and
having so despatched it, he set himself to discover, mark
down and walk to Gilhampton, and so recover his re-
sources. And having got to Gilhampton at last, he
THE POTWELL INN 247
changed his five-pound note, bought four pound postal
orders, and repeated his manoeuvre with nineteen pounds.
After a lapse of fifteen years he rediscovered this in-
teresting world, about which so many people go incredi-
bly blind and bored. He went along country roads
while all the birds were piping and chirruping and cheep-
ing and singing, and looked at fresh new things, and
felt as happy and irresponsible as a boy with an unex-
pected half -holiday. And if ever the thought of Miriam
returned to him he controlled his mind. He came to
country inns and sat for unmeasured hours talking of
this and that to those sage carters who rest for ever in
the taps of country inns, while the big sleek brass jingling
horses wait patiently outside with their waggons ; he
got a job with some van people who w r ere wandering
about the country with swings and a steam roundabout
and remained with them for three days, until one of their
dogs took a violent dislike to him and made his duties
unpleasant; he talked to tramps and wayside labourers,
he snoozed under hedges by day and in outhouses and
hayricks at night, and once, but only once, he slept
in a casual ward. He felt as the etiolated grass and
daisies must do when you move the garden roller away
to a new place.
He gathered a quantity of strange and interesting
He crossed some misty meadows by moonlight and the
mist lay low on the grass, so low that it scarcely reached
above his waist, and houses and clumps of trees stood
248 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
out like islands in a milky sea, so sharply defined was the
upper surface of the mistbank. He came nearer and
nearer to a strange thing that floated like a boat upon
this magic lake, and behold! something moved at the
stern and a rope was whisked at the prow, and it had
changed into a pensive cow, drowsy-eyed, regarding
He saw a remarkable sunset in a new valley near
Maidstone, a very red and clear sunset, a wide redness
under a pale cloudless heaven, and with the hills all
round the edge of the sky a deep purple blue and clear
and fiat, looking exactly as he had seen mountains
painted in pictures. He seemed transported to some
strange country, and would have felt no surprise if the
old labourer he came upon leaning silently over a gate
had addressed him in an unfamiliar tongue. . . .
Then one night, just towards dawn, his sleep upon a
pile of brushwood was broken by the distant rattle of a
racing motor car breaking all the speed regulations, and
as he could not sleep again, he got up and walked into
Maidstone as the day came. He had never been abroad
in a town at half-past two in his life before, and the
stillness of everything in the bright sunrise impressed
him profoundly. At one corner was a startling police-
man, standing in a doorway quite motionless, like a
-waxen image. Mr. Polly wished him " good morning "
unanswered, and went down to the bridge over the
Medway and sat on the parapet very still and thought-
ful, watching the town awaken, and wondering what he
THE POT WELL INN 249
should do if it didn't, if the world of men never woke
again. . . .
One day he found himself going along a road, with a
wide space of sprouting bracken and occasional trees on
either side, and suddenly this road became strangely,
perplexingly familiar. " Lord ! " he said, and turned
about and stood. " It can't be."
He was incredulous, then left the road and walked
along a scarcely perceptible track to the left, and came in
half a minute to an old lichenous stone wall. It seemed
exactly the bit of wall he had known so well. It might
have been but yesterday he was in that place; there
remained even a little pile of wood. It became absurdly
the same wood. The bracken perhaps was not so high,
and most of its fronds still uncoiled ; that was all. Here
he had stood, it seemed, and there she had sat and
looked down upon him. Where was she now, and what
had become of her? He counted the years back and
marvelled that beauty should have called to him with
so imperious a voice and signified nothing.
He hoisted himself with some little difficulty to the
top of the wall, and saw off under the beech trees two
schoolgirls small, insignificant, pig-tailed creatures,
with heads of blond and black, with their arms twined
about each other's necks, no doubt telling each other
the silliest secrets.
But that girl with the red hair was she a countess?
was she a queen? Children perhaps? Had sorrow
dared to touch her?
250 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
Had she forgotten altogether? . . .
A tramp sat by the roadside thinking, and it seemed
to the man in the passing motor car he must needs be
plotting for another pot of beer. But as a matter of
fact what the tramp was saying to himself over and over
again was a variant upon a well-known Hebrew word.
" Itchabod," the tramp was saying in the voice of one
who reasons on the side of the inevitable. " It's Fair
Itchabod, O' Man. There's no going back to it."
It was about two o'clock in the afternoon one hot
day in high May when Mr. Polly, unhurrying and
serene, came to that broad bend of the river to which the
little lawn and garden of the Potwell Inn run down.
He stopped at the sight of the place with its deep tiled
roof, nestling under big trees you never get a decently
big, decently shaped tree by the seaside its sign to-
wards the roadway, its sun-blistered green bench and
tables, its shapely white windows and its row of unshoot-
ing hollyhock plants in the garden. A hedge separated it
from a buttercup-yellow meadow, .and beyond stood
three poplars in a group against the sky, three excep-
tionally tall, graceful and harmonious poplars. It is
hard to say what there was about them that made them
so beautiful to Mr. Polly; but they seemed to him to
touch a pleasant scene to a distinction almost divine. He
THE POT WELL INN 251
remained admiring them for a long time. At last the
need for coarser aesthetic satisfactions arose in his.
" Provinder," he whispered, drawing near to the Inn.
" Cold sirlion for choice. And nut-brown brew and
The nearer he came to the place the more he liked it.
The windows on the ground floor were long and low,
and they had pleasing red blinds. The green tables
outside were agreeably ringed with memories of former
drinks, and an extensive grape vine spread level branches
across the whole front of the place. Against the wall
was a broken oar, two boat-hooks and the stained and
faded red cushions of a pleasure boat. One went up
three steps to the glass-panelled door and peeped into
a broad, low room with a bar and beer engine, behind
which were many bright and helpful looking bottles
against mirrors, and great and little pewter measures,
and bottles fastened in brass wire upside down with their
corks replaced by taps, and a white china cask labelled
" Shrub," and cigar boxes and boxes of cigarettes, and
a couple of Toby jugs and a beautifully coloured hunting
scene framed and glazed, showing the most elegant and
beautiful people taking Piper's Cherry Brandy, and cards
such as the law requires about the dilution of spirits and
the illegality of bringing children into bars, and satirical
verses about swearing and asking for credit, and three
very bright red-cheeked wax apples and a round-shaped
252 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
But these were the mere background to the really
pleasant thing in the spectacle, which was quite the
plumpest woman Mr. Polly had ever seen, seated in an
armchair in the midst of all these bottles and glasses
and glittering things, peacefully and tranquilly, and with-
out the slightest loss of dignity, asleep. Many people
would have called her a fat woman, but Mr. Polly's in-
nate sense of epithet told him from the outset that plump
was the word. She had shapely brows and a straight,
well-shaped nose, kind lines and contentment about
her mouth, and beneath it the jolly chins clustered like
chubby little cherubim about the feet of an Assumption-
ing-Madonna. Her plumpness was firm and pink and
wholesome, and her hands, dimpled at every joint, were
clasped in front of her; she seemed as it were to embrace
herself with infinite confidence and kindliness as one
who knew herself good in substance, good in essence,
and would show her gratitude to God by that ready ac-
ceptance of all that he had given her. Her head was a
little on one side, not much, but just enough to speak of
trustfulness, and rob her of the stiff effect of self-reli-
ance. And she slept.
" My sort," said Mr. Polly, and opened the door very
softly, divided between the desire to enter and come
nearer and an instinctive indisposition to break slumbers
so manifestly sweet and satisfying.
She awoke with a start, and it amazed Mr. Polly to
see swift terror flash into her eyes. Instantly it had
THE POT WELL INN 253
" Law ! " she said, her face softening with relief, " I
thought you were Jim."
" I'm never Jim," said Mr. Polly.
" You've got his sort of hat."
" Ah ! " said Mr. Polly, and leant over the bar.
" It just came into my head you was Jim," said the
plump lady, dismissed the topic and stood up. " I be-
lieve I was having forty winks," she said, " if all the
truth was told. What can I do for you ? "
"Cold meat?" said Mr. Polly.
" There is cold meat," the plump woman admitted.
"And room for it."
The plump woman came and leant over the bar and
regarded him judicially, but kindly. " There's some cold
boiled beef," she said, and added : " A bit of crisp let-
" New mustard," said Mr. Polly.
"And a tankard!"
" A tankard."
They understood each other perfectly.
" Looking for work ? " asked the plump woman.
" In a way," said Mr. Polly.
They smiled like old friends.
Whatever the truth may be about love, there is cer-
tainly such a thing as friendship at first sight. They
liked each other's voices, they liked each other's way of
smiling and speaking.
" It's such beautiful weather this spring," said Mr.
Polly, explaining everything.
254 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
" What sort of work do you want ? " she asked.
" I've never properly thought that out," said Mr.
Polly. " I've been . looking round for Ideas."
" Will you have your beef in the tap or outside ?
That's the tap."
Mr. Polly had a glimpse of an oaken settle. " In the
tap will be handier for you," he said.
" Hear that ? " said the plump lady.
Presently the silence was broken by a distant howl.
" Oooooo-ver ! " " Eh ? " she said.
" That's the ferry. And there isn't a ferryman."
" Can you punt ? "
" Never tried."
" Well pull the pole out before you reach the end of
the punt, that's all. Try."
Mr. Polly went out again into the sunshine.
At times one can tell so much so briefly. Here are
the facts then bare. He found a punt and a pole, got
across to the steps on the opposite side, picked up an
elderly gentleman in an alpaca jacket and a pith helmet,
cruised with him vaguely for twenty minutes, conveyed
him tortuously into the midst of a thicket of forget-
me-not spangled sedges, splashed some water-weed over
him, hit him twice with the punt pole, and finally landed
him, alarmed but abusive, in treacherous soil at the edge
THE POT WELL INN 255
of a hay meadow about forty yards down stream, where
he immediately got into difficulties with a noisy, aggres-
sive little white dog, which was guardian of a jacket.
Mr. Polly returned in a complicated manner to his
He found the plump woman rather flushed and tearful,
and seated at one of the green tables outside.
" I been laughing at you," she said.
"What for?" asked Mr. Polly.
" I ain't 'ad such a laugh since Jim come 'ome.
When you 'it 'is 'eel, it 'urt my side."
" It didn't hurt his head not particularly."
She waved her head. " Did you charge him any-
" Gratis," said Mr. Polly. " I never thought of it."
The plump woman pressed her hands to her sides and
laughed silently for a space. " You ought to have
charged him sumpthing," she said. " You better come
and have your cold meat, before you do any more puntin'.
You and me'll get on together."
Presently she came and stood watching him eat.
" You eat better than you punt," she said, and then, " I
dessay you could learn to punt."
" Wax to receive and marble to retain," said Mr. Polly.
" This beef is a Bit of All Right, Ma'm. I could have
done differently if I hadn't been punting on an empty
stomach. There's a lear feeling as the pole goes in "
" I've never held with fasting," said the plump woman.
" You want a ferryman ? "
256 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY.
" I want an odd man about the place."
" I'm odd, all right. What's your wages ? "
" Not much, but you get tips and pickings. I've a
sort of feeling it would suit you."
" I've a sort of feeling it would. What's the duties ?
Fetch and carry? Ferry? Garden? Wash bottles?
" That's about it," said the fat woman.
" Give me a trial."
" I've more than half a mind. Or I wouldn't have
said anything about it. I suppose you're all right.
You've got a sort of half-respectable look about you.
I suppose you 'aven't done anything."
" Bit of Arson," said Mr. Polly, as if he jested.
" So long as you haven't the habit," said the plump
" My first time, M'am," said Mr. Polly, munching his
way through an excellent big leaf of lettuce. " And
" It's all right if you haven't been to prison," said the
plump woman. " It isn't what a man's happened to do
makes 'im bad. We all happen to do things at times.
It's bringing it home to him, and spoiling his self-respect
does the mischief. You don't look a wrong 'un. 'Ave
you been to prison?"
" Nor a reformatory ? Nor any institution ? "
"Not me. Do I look reformed?"
" Can you paint and carpenter a bit ? "
THE POT WELL INN 257
" Well, I'm ripe for it."
"Have a bit of cheese?"
" If I might"
And the way she brought the cheese showed Mr. Polly
that the business was settled in her mind.
He spent the afternoon exploring the premises of the
Potwell Inn and learning the duties that might be ex-
pected of him, such as Stockholm tarring fences, digging
potatoes, swabbing out boats, helping people land, em-
barking, landing and time-keeping for the hirers of two
rowing boats and one Canadian canoe, baling out the
said vessels and concealing their leaks and defects from
prospective hirers, persuading inexperienced hirers to
start down stream rather than up, repairing rowlocks
and taking inventories of returning boats with a view to
supplementary charges, cleaning boots, sweeping chim-
neys, house-painting, cleaning windows, sweeping out
and sanding the tap and bar, cleaning pewter, washing
glasses, turpentining woodwork, whitewashing generally,
plumbing and engineering, repairing locks and clocks,
waiting and tapster's work generally, beating carpets and
mats, cleaning bottles and saving corks, taking into the
cellar, moving, tapping and connecting beer casks with
their engines, blocking and destroying wasps' nests, doing
forestry with several trees, drowning superfluous kittens,
and dog-fancying as required, assisting in the rearing of
ducklings and the care of various poultry, bee-keeping,
stabling, baiting and grooming horses and asses, cleaning
and " garing " motor cars and bicycles, inflating tires
258 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
and repairing punctures, recovering the bodies of
drowned persons from the river as required, and assisting
people in trouble in the water, first-aid and sympathy,
improvising and superintending a bathing station for
visitors, attending inquests and funerals in the interests
of the establishment, scrubbing floors and all the ordinary
duties of a scullion, the ferry, chasing hens and goats
from the adjacent cottages out of the garden, making up
paths and superintending drainage, gardening generally,
delivering bottled beer and soda water syphons in the
neighbourhood, running miscellaneous errands, removing
drunken and offensive persons from the premises by tact
or muscle as occasion required, keeping in with the local
policemen, defending the premises in general and the
orchard in particular from depredators. . . .
" Can but try it," said Mr. Polly towards tea time.
" When there's nothing else on hand I suppose I might
do a bit of fishing."
Mr. Polly was particularly charmed by the ducklings.
They were piping about among the vegetables in the
company of their foster mother, and as he and the
plump woman came down the garden path the little
creatures mobbed them, and ran over their boots and in
between Mr. Polly's legs, and did their best to be trod-
den upon and killed after the manner of ducklings all
the world over. Mr. Polly had never been near young
ducklings before, and their extreme blondness and the
THE POT WELL INN 259
delicate completeness of their feet and beaks filled him
with admiration. It is open to question whether there
is anything more friendly in the world than a very young
duckling. It was with the utmost difficulty that he tore
himself away to practise punting, with the plump woman
coaching from the bank. Punting he found was diffi-
cult, but not impossible, and towards four o'clock he
succeeded in conveying a second passenger across the
sundering flood from the inn to the unknown.
As he returned, slowly indeed, but now one might
almost say surely, to the peg to which the punt was
moored, he became aware of a singularly delightful
human being awaiting him on the bank. She stood with
her legs very wide apart, her hands behind her back,
and her head a little on one side, watching his gestures
w r ith an expression of disdainful interest. She had
black hair and brown legs and a buff short frock and
very intelligent eyes. And when he had reached a
sufficient proximity she remarked : " Hello ! "
" Hello," said Mr. Polly, and saved himself in the
nick of time from disaster.
" Silly," said the young lady, and Mr. Polly lunged
" What are you called ? "
" Then I'm Alfred. But I meant to be Polly."
260 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY.
" I was first."
"All right. I'm going to be the ferryman."
" I see. You'll have to punt better."
" You should have seen me early in the afternoon."
" I can imagine it. ... I've seen the others."
" What others ? " Mr. Polly had landed now and was
fastening up the punt.
" What Uncle Jim has scooted."
" He comes and scoots them. He'll scoot you too, I
A mysterious shadow seemed to fall athwart the sun-
shine and pleasantness of the Potwell Inn.
" I'm not a scooter," said Mr. Polly.
" Uncle Jim is."
She whistled a little flatly for a moment, and threw
small stones at a clump of meadow-sweet that sprang
from the bank. Then she remarked :
" When Uncle Jim comes back he'll cut your in sides
out. . . . P'raps, very likely, he'll let me see."
There was a pause.
"Who's Uncle Jim?" Mr. Polly asked in a faded
" Don't you know who Uncle Jim is? He'll show you.
He's a scorcher, is Uncle Jim. He only came back just
a little time ago, and he's scooted three men. He don't
like strangers about, don't Uncle Jim. He can swear.
He's going to teach me, soon as I can whissle properly."
" Teach you to swear ! " cried Mr. Polly, horrified.
THE POTWELL INN 261
"And spit," said the little girl proudly. "He says
I'm the gamest little beast he ever came across ever."
For the first time in his life it seemed to Mr. Polly
that he had come across something sheerly dreadful. He
stared at the pretty thing of flesh and spirit in front of
him, lightly balanced on its stout little legs and looking
at him with eyes that had still to learn the expression of
either disgust or fear.
"I say," said Mr. Polly, "how old are you?"
" Nine," said the little girl.
She turned away and reflected. Truth compelled her
to add one other statement.
" He's not what I should call handsome, not Uncle
Jim," she said. " But he's a scorcher and no mistake.
. . . Gramma don't like him."
Mr. Polly found the plump woman in the big bricked
kitchen lighting a fire for tea. He went to the root of
the matter at once.
"I say," he asked, "who's Uncle Jim?"
The plump woman blanched and stood still for a
moment. A stick fell out of the bundle in her hand un-
" That little granddaughter of mine been saying
things?" she asked faintly.
" Bits of things," said Mr. Polly.
"Well, I suppose I must tell you sooner or later.
262 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
He's -. It's Jim. He's the Drorback to this place,
that's what he is. The Drorback. I hoped you mightn't
hear so soon. . . . Very likely he's gone."
"She don't seem to think so."
" 'E 'asn't been near the place these two weeks and
more," said the plump woman.
"But who is he?"
" I , suppose I got to tell you," said the plump
" She says he scoots people," Mr. Polly remarked after
" He's my own sister's son." The plump woman
watched the crackling fire for a space. " I suppose I
got to tell you," she repeated.
She softened towards tears. " I try not to think of
it, and night and day he's haunting me. I try not to
think of it. T've been for easy-going all my life. But
I'm that worried and afraid, with de.ath and ruin threat-
ened and evil all about me! I don't know what to do!
My own sister's son, and me a widow woman and
'elpless against his doin's!"
She put down the sticks she held upon the fender, and
felt for her handkerchief. She began to sob and talk
" I wouldn't mind nothing else half so much if he'd
leave that child alone. But he goes talking to her if
I leave her a moment he's talking to her, teaching her
words and giving her ideas ! "
" That's a Bit Thick," said Mr. Polly.
THE POTWELL INN 263
" Thick ! " cried the plump woman ; " it's 'orrible !
And what am I to do? He's been here three times
now, six days and a week and a part of a week, and I
pray to God night and day he may never come again.
Praying! Back he's come sure as fate. He takes my
money and he takes my things. He won't let no man
stay here to protect me or do the boats or work the
ferry. The ferry's getting a scandal. They stand and
shout and scream and use language. ... If I com-
plain they'll say I'm helpless to manage here, they'll take
away my license, out I shall go and it's all the living
I can get and he knows it, and he plays on it, and he
don't care. And here I am. I'd send the child away,
but I got nowhere to send the child. I buys him off when
it comes to that, and back he comes, worse than ever,
prowling round and doing evil. And not a soul to help
me. Not a soul ! I just hoped there might be a day
or so. Before he comes back again. I was just hop-
ing I'm the sort that hopes."
Air. Polly was reflecting on the flaws and drawbacks
that seem to be inseparable from all the more agreeable
things in life.
"Biggish sort of man, I expect?" asked Mr. Polly,
trying to get the situation in all its bearings.
But the plump woman did not heed him. She was
going on with her fire-making, and retailing in discon-
nected fragments the fearfulness of Uncle Jim.
" There was always something a bit wrong with him,"
she said, " but nothing you mightn't have hoped for, not
264 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
till they took him and carried him off and reformed
him. . . .
" He was cruel to the hens and chickings, it's true,
and stuck a knife into another boy, but then I've seen
him that nice to a cat, nobody could have been kinder.
I'm sure he didn't do no 'arm to that cat whatever any-
one tries to make out of it. I'd never listen to that.
. . . It was that reformatory ruined him. They put
him along of a lot of London boys full of ideas of wicked-
ness, and because he didn't mind pain and he don't, I
will admit, try as I would they made him think himself
a hero. Them boys laughed at the teachers they set over
them, laughed and mocked at them and I don't sup-
pose they was the best teachers in the world; I don't
suppose, and I don't suppose anyone sensible does sup-
pose that everyone who goes to be a teacher or a chap-
Tin or a warder in a Reformatory Home goes and
changes right away into an Angel of Grace from Heaven
and Oh, Lord ! where was I ? "
"What did they send him to the Reformatory for?"
" Playing truant and stealing. He stole right enough
stole the money from an old woman, and what was
I to do when it came to the trial but say what I knew.
And him like . viper a-looking at me more like a viper
than a human boy. He leans on the bar and looks at
me. ' All right, Aunt Flo,' he says, just that and nothing
more. Thne after time, I've dreamt of it, and now he's
come. 'They've Reformed me,' he says, * and made me
THE POT WELL INN 265
a devil, and devil I mean to be to you. So out with it,'
"What did you give him last time?" asked Mr.
" Three golden pounds," said the plump woman.
" ' That won't last very long,' he says. ' But there ain't
no hurry. I'll be back in a week about.' If I wasn't
one of the hoping sort "
She left the sentence unfinished.
Mr. Polly reflected. "What sort of a size is he?"
he asked. " I'm not one of your Herculaceous sort, if
you mean that. Nothing very wonderful bicepitally."
" You'll scoot," said the plump woman with convic-
tion rather than bitterness. " You'd better scoot now,
and I'll try and find some money for him to go away
again when he comes. It ain't reasonable to expect you
to do anything but scoot. But I suppose it's the way
of a woman in trouble to try and get help from a
man, and hope and hope. I'm the hoping sort."
" How long's he been about ? " asked Mr. Polly, ignor-
ing his own outlook.
" Three months it is come the seventh since he come
in by that very back door and I hadn't set eyes on him
for seven long years. He stood in the door watchin'
me, and suddenly he let off a yelp like a dog, and there
he was grinning at the fright he'd given me. ' Good
old Aunty Flo/ he says, 'ain't you dee-lighted to see
me ? ' he says, ' now I'm Reformed.' "
266 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
The plump lady went to the sink and filled the kettle.
" I never did like 'im," she said, standing at the sink.
" And seeing him there, with his teeth all black and
broken . P'raps I didn't give him much of a wel-
come at first. Not what would have been kind to him.
'Lord!' I said, 'it's Jim.'"
" ' It's Jim/ he said. ' Like a bad shiliin' like a
damned bad shilling. Jim and trouble. You all of
you wanted me Reformed and now you got me Re-
formed. I'm a Reformatory Reformed Character, war-
ranted all right and turned out as such. Ain't you
going to ask me in, Aunty dear ? '
" ' Come in/ I said, ' I won't have it said I wasn't
ready to be kind to you ! '
" He comes in and shuts the door. Down he sits in
that chair. ' I come to torment you ! ' he says, ' you
Old Sumpthing ! ' and begins at me. . . . No human
being could ever have been called such things before. It
made me cry out. ' And now/ he says, ' just to show I
ain't afraid of 'urting you/ he says, and ups and twists
Mr. Polly gasped.
" I could stand even his vi'lence," said the plump
woman, " if it wasn't for the child."
Mr. Polly went to the kitchen window and surveyed his
namesake, who was away up the garden path with her
hands behind her back, and whisps of black hair in dis-
order about her little face, thinking, thinking profoundly,
THE POT WELL INN 267
" You two oughtn't to be left," he said.
The plump woman stared at his back with hard hope
in her eyes.
" I don't see that it's my affair," said Mr. Polly.
The plump woman resumed her business with the
" I'd like to have a look at him before I go," said
Mr. Polly, thinking; aloud. And added, " somehow.
Not my business, of course."
" Lord ! " he cried with a start at a noise in the bar,
" Only a customer," said the plump woman.
Mr. Polly made no rash promises, and thought a
" It seems a good sort of Crib," he said, and added,
" for a chap who's looking for trouble."
But he stayed on and did various things out of the
list I have already given, and worked the ferry, and it
was four days before he saw anything of Uncle Jim.
And so resistent is the human mind to things not yet
experienced that he could easily have believed in that
time that there was no such person in the world as
Uncle Jim. The plump woman, after her one outbreak of
confidence, ignored the subject, and little Polly seemed
to have exhausted her impressions in her first communi-
cation, and engaged her mind now with a simple direct-
268 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
ness in the study and subjugation of the new human being
Heaven had sent into her world. The first unfavourable
impression of his punting was soon effaced; he could
nickname ducklings very amusingly, create boats out of
wooden splinters, and stalk and fly from imaginary
tigers in the orchard with a convincing earnestness that
was surely beyond the power of any other human being.
She conceded at last that he should be called Mr. Polly,
in honour of her, Miss Polly, even as he desired.
Uncle Jim turned up in the twilight.
Uncle Jim appeared with none of the disruptive vio-
lence Mr. Polly had dreaded. He came quite softly.
Mr. Polly was going down the lane behind the church
that led to the Potwell Inn after posting a letter to the
lime-juice people at the post-office. He was walking
slowly, after his habit, and thinking discursively. With
a sudden tightening of the muscles he became aware
of a figure walking noiselessly beside him. His first
impression was of a face singularly broad above and
with a wide empty grin as its chief feature below, of a
slouching body and dragging feet.
" Arf a mo'," said the figure, as if in response to
his start, and speaking in a hoarse whisper. " Arf
a mo', mister. You the noo bloke at the Potwell
Mr. Polly felt evasive. " 'Spose I am," he replied
hoarsely, and quickened his pace.
" Arf a mo', 5 ' said Uncle Jim, taking his arm. " We
ain't doing a (sanguinary) Marathon. It ain't a (deco-
THE POTWELL INN 269
rated) cinder track. I want a word with you, mister.
Mr. Polly wriggled his arm free and stopped. " What
is it?" he asked, and faced the terror.
"I jest want a (decorated) word wiv you. See?
just a friendly word or two. Just to clear up any
blooming errors. That's all I want. No need to be so
(richly decorated) proud, if you are the noo bloke at
Potwell Inn. Not a bit of it. See?"
Uncle Jim was certainly not a handsome person. He
was short, shorter than Mr. Polly, with long arms and
lean big hands, a thin and wiry neck stuck out of his
grey flannel shirt and supported a big head that had
something of the snake in the convergent lines of its
broad knotty brow, meanly proportioned face and pointed
chin. His almost toothless mouth seemed a cavern in
the twilight. Some accident had left him with one
small and active and one large and expressionless red-
dish eye, and whisps of straight hair strayed from under
the blue cricket cap he wore pulled down obliquely over
the latter. He spat between his teeth and wiped his
mouth untidily with the soft side of his fist.
"You got to blurry well shift," he said. "See?"
" Shift ! " said Mr. Polly. " How ? "
" 'Cos the Potwell Inn's my beat See? "
Mr. Polly had never felt less witty. " How's it your
beat ? " he asked.
Uncle Jim thrust his face forward and shook his open
hand, bent like a claw, under Mr. Polly's nose. "Not
270 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
your blooming business," he said. " You got to
" S'pose I don't," said Mr. Polly.
" You got to shift."
The tone of Uncle Jim's voice became urgent and
" You don't know who you're up against," he said.
"It's a kindness I'm doing to warn you. See? I'm
just one of those blokes who don't stick at things, see?
I don't stick at nuffin'."
Mr. Polly's manner became detached and confidential
as though the matter and the speaker interested him
greatly, but didn't concern him overmuch. " What do
you think you'll do ? " he asked.
" If you don't clear out? "
" ' Gaw!" said Uncle Jim. "You'd better. 'Ere!"
He gripped Mr. Polly's wrist with a grip of steel, and
in an instant Mr. Polly understood the relative quality
of their muscles. He breathed, an uninspiring breath,
into Mr. Polly's face.
"What won't I do?" he said. "Once I start in on
He paused, and the night about them seemed to be
listening. " I'll make a mess of you," he said in his
hoarse whisper. " I'll do you injuries. I'll 'urt you.
I'll kick you ugly, see? I'll 'urt you in 'orrible ways
'orrible, ugly ways. . . ."
He scrutinised Mr. Polly's face.
THE POTWELL INN 271
"You'll cry," he said, "to see yourself. See? Cry
" You got no right," began Mr. Polly.
" Right ! " His note was fierce. " Ain't the old
woman me aunt ? "
He spoke still closer. " I'll make a gory mess of
you. I'll cut bits orf you "
He receded a little. " I got no quarrel with you"
" It's too late to go to-night," said Mr. Polly.
" I'll be round to-morrer 'bout eleven. See ? And
if I finds you "
He produced a blood-curdling oath.
" H'm," said Mr. Polly, trying to keep things light.
" We'll consider your suggestions."
" You better," said Uncle Jim, and suddenly, noise-
lessly, was going.
His whispering voice sank until Mr. Polly could hear
only the dim fragments of sentences. " 'Orrible things
to you 'orrible things. . . . Kick yer ugly.
. . . Cut yer liver out . . . spread it all about,
I will. . . . Outing doos. See ? I don't care a dead
rat one way or the uvver."
And with a curious twisting gesture of the arm Uncle
Jim receded until his face was a still, dim thing that
watched, and the black shadows of the hedge seemed to
have swallowed up his body altogether.
.272 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY.
Next morning about half-past ten Mr. Polly found
himself seated under a clump of fir trees by the roadside
and about three miles and a half from the Potwell Inn.
He was by no means sure whether he was taking a walk
to clear his mind or leaving that threat-marred Paradise
for good and all. His reason pointed a lean, unhesitat-
ing finger along the latter course.
For after all, the thing was not his quarrel.
That agreeable plump woman, agreeable, motherly,
comfortable as she might be, wasn't his affair; that
child with the mop of black hair who combined so magic-
ally the charm of mouse and butterfly and flitting bird,
who was daintier than a flower and softer than a peach,
was no concern of his. Good heavens ! what were they
to him? Nothing! . . .
Uncle Jim, of course, had a claim, a sort of claim.
If it came to duty and chucking up this attractive, in-
dolent, observant, humorous, tramping life, there were
those who had a right to him, a legitimate right, a prior
claim on his protection and chivalry.
Why not listen to the call of duty and go back to
Miriam now? . . .
He had had a very agreeable holiday. . . .
And while Mr. Polly sat thinking these things as well
as he could, he knew that if only he dared to look up
the heavens had opened and the clear judgment on his
case was written across the sky.
THE POTWELL INN 273
He knew he knew now as much as a man can know
of life. He knew he had to fight or perish.
Life had never been so clear to him before. It had
always been a confused, entertaining spectacle, he had
responded to this impulse and that, seeking agreeable
and entertaining things, evading difficult and painful
things. Such is the way of those who grow up to a
life that has neither danger nor honour in its texture.
He had been muddled and wrapped about and entangled
like a creature born in the jungle who has never seen
sea or sky. Now he had come out of it suddenly into a
great exposed place. It was as if God and Heaven
waited over him and all the earth was expectation.
" Not my business," said Mr. Polly, speaking aloud.
" Where the devil do / come in ? "
And again, with something between a whine and a
snarl in his voice, " not my blasted business ! "
His mind seemed to have divided itself into several
compartments, each with its own particular discussion
busily in progress, and quite regardless of the others.
One was busy with the detailed interpretation of the
phrase " Kick you ugly." There's a sort of French
wrestling in which you use and guard against feet.
Watch the man's eye, and as his foot comes up, grip and
over he goes at your mercy if you use the advantage
right. But how do you use the advantage rightly?
When he thought of Uncle Jim the inside feeling of his
body faded away rapidly to a blank discomfort. . . .
" Old cadger ! She hadn't no business to drag me into
274 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
her quarrels. Ought to go to the police and ask for
help! Dragging me into a quarrel that don't concern
" Wish I'd never set eyes on the rotten inn ! "
The reality of the case arched over him like the vault
of the sky, as plain as the sweet blue heavens above and
the. wide spread of hill and valley about him. Man
comes into life to seek and find his sufficient beauty, to
serve it, to win and increase it, to fight for it, to face
anything and dare anything for it, counting death as
nothing so long as the dying eyes still turn to it. And
fear, and dulness and indolence and appetite, which in-
deed are no more than fear's three crippled brothers who
make ambushes and creep by night, are against him,
to delay him, to hold him off, to hamper and beguile and
kill him in that quest. He had but to lift his eyes to
see all that, as much a part of his world as the driving
clouds and the bending grass, but he kept himself down-
cast, a grumbling, inglorious, dirty, fattish little tramp,
full of dreads and quivering excuses.
" Why the hell was I ever born ? " he said, with the
truth almost winning him.
What do you do when a dirty man who smells, gets
you down and under in the dirt and dust with a knee
below your diaphragm and a large hairy hand squeezing
your windpipe tighter and tighter in a quarrel that
isn't, properly speaking, yours?
" If I had a chance against him " protested Mr.
THE POTWELL INN 275
" It's no Good, you see," said Mr. Polly.
He stood up as though his decision was made, and was
for an instant struck still by doubt.
There lay the road before him going this way to the
east and that to the west.
Westward, one hour away now, was the Potwell Inn.
Already things might be happening there. . . .
Eastward was the wise man's course, a road dipping
between hedges to a hop garden and a wood and pres-
ently no doubt reaching an inn, a picturesque church,
perhaps, a village and fresh company. The wise man's
course. Mr. Polly saw himself going along it, and tried
to see himself going along it with all the self-applause
a wise man feels. But somehow it wouldn't come like
that. The wise man fell short of happiness for all his
wisdom. The wise man had a paunch and round shoul-
ders and red ears and excuses. It was a pleasant road,
and why the wise man should not go along it merry and
singing, full of summer happiness, was a miracle to
Mr. Polly's mind, but confound it ! the fact remained,
the figure went slinking slinking was the only word
'for it and would not go otherwise than slinking. He
turned his eyes westward as if for an explanation, and
if the figure was no longer ignoble, the prospect was
" One kick in the stummick would settle a chap like
me," said Mr. Polly.
"Oh, God!" cried Mr. Polly, and lifted his eyes to
276 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
heaven, and said for the last time in that struggle, "It
isn't my affair! 51
And so saying he turned his face towards the Potwell
He went back neither halting nor hastening in his
pace after this last decision, but with a mind feverishly
" If I get killed, I get killed, and if he gets killed I get
hung. Don't seem just somehow."
" Don't suppose I shall frighten him off."
The private war between Mr. Polly and Uncle Jim
for the possession of the Potwell Inn fell naturally into
three chief campaigns. There was first of all the great
campaign which ended in the triumphant eviction of
Uncle Jim from the inn premises, there came next after
a brief interval the futile invasions of the premises by
Uncle Jim that culminated in the Battle of the Dead Eel,
and after some months of involuntary truce there was
the last supreme conflict of the Night Surprise. Each
of these campaigns merits a section to itself.
Mr. Polly re-entered the inn discreetly. He found
the plump woman seated in her bar, her eyes a-stare, her
face white and wet with tears. " O God ! " she was
saying over and over again. " O God ! " The air was
full of a spirituous reek, and on the sanded boards in
THE POTWELL INN 277
front of the bar were the fragments of a broken bottle
and an overturned glass.
She turned her despair at the sound of his entry, and
despair gave place to astonishment.
" You come back ! " she said.
" Ra-ther," said Mr. Polly.
" He's he's mad drunk and looking for her."
"Where is she?"
" Locked upstairs."
" Haven't you sent to the police ? "
" No one to send."
"I'll see to it," said Mr. Polly. "Out this way?"
He went to the crinkly paned window and peered out.
Uncle Jim was coming down the garden path towards
the house, his hands in his pockets and singing hoarsely.
Mr. Polly remembered afterwards with pride and amaze-
ment that he felt neither faint nor rigid. He glanced
round him, seized a bottle of beer by the neck as an
improvised club, and went out by the garden door.
Uncle Jim stopped amazed. His brain did not instantly
rise to the new posture of things. " You ! " he cried,
and stopped for a moment. " You scoot! "
" Your job," said Mr. Polly, and advanced some paces.
Uncle Jim stood swaying with wrathful astonishment
and then darted forward with clutching hands. Mr.
Polly felt that if his antagonist closed he was lost, and
smote with all his force at the ugly head before him.
278 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
Smash went the bottle, and Uncle Jim staggered, half-
stunned by the blow and blinded with beer.
The lapses and leaps of the human mind are for ever
mysterious. Mr. Polly had never expected that bottle
to break. In the instant he felt disarmed and helpless.
Before him was Uncle Jim, infuriated and evidently
still coming on, and for defence was nothing but the
neck of a bottle.
For a time our Mr. Polly has figured heroic. Now
comes the fall again; he sounded abject terror; he
dropped that ineffectual scrap of glass and turned and
fled round the corner of the house.
" Bolls ! " came the thick voice of the enemy behind
him as one who accepts a challenge, and bleeding, but
indomitable, Uncle Jim entered the house.
" Bolls ! " he said, surveying the bar. " Fightin' with
bolls ! I'll show 'im fightin' with bolls ! "
Uncle Jim had learnt all about fighting with bottles in
the Reformatory Home. Regardless of his terror-
stricken aunt he ranged among the bottled beer and suc-
ceeded after one or two failures in preparing two bottles
to his satisfaction by knocking off the bottoms, and
gripping them dagger-wise by the necks. So prepared,
he went forth again to destroy Mr. Polly.
Mr. Polly, freed from the sense of urgent pursuit,
had halted beyond the raspberry canes and rallied his
courage. The sense of Uncle Jim victorious in the
house restored his manhood. He went round by the
outhouses to the riverside, seeking a weapon, and found
THE POTWELL INN 279
an old paddle boat hook. With this he smote Uncle Jim
as he emerged by the door of the tap. Uncle Jim, blas-
pheming dreadfully and with dire stabbing intimations
in either hand, came through the splintering paddle like
a circus rider through a paper hoop, and once more Mr.
Polly dropped his weapon and fled.
A careless observer watching him sprint round and
round the inn in front of the lumbering and reproachful
pursuit of Uncle Jim might have formed an altogether
erroneous estimate of the issue of the campaign. Cer-
tain compensating qualities of the very greatest military
value were appearing in Mr. Polly even as he ran; if
Uncle Jim had strength and brute courage and the rich
toughening experience a Reformatory Home affords,
Mr. Polly was nevertheless sober, more mobile and with
a mind now stimulated to an almost incredible nimble-
ness. So that he not only gained on Uncle Jim, but
thought what use he might make of this advantage. The
word " strategious " flamed red across the tumult of his
mind. As he came round the house for the third time,
he darted suddenly into the yard, swung the door to
behind himself and bolted it, seized the zinc pig's pail
that stood by the entrance to the kitchen and had it neatly
and resonantly over Uncle Jim's head as he came belat-
edly in round the outhouse on the other side. One of
the splintered bottles jabbed Mr. Polly's ear at the
time it seemed of no importance and then Uncle Jim was
down and writhing dangerously and noisily upon the yard
tiles, with his head still in the pig pail and his bottles
280 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
gone to splinters, and Mr. Polly was fastening the kitchen
door against him.
" Can't go on like this for ever," said Mr. Polly,
whooping for breath, and selecting a weapon from
among the brooms that stood behind the kitchen door.
Uncle Jim was losing his head. He was up and
kicking the door and bellowing unamiable proposals and
invitations, so that a strategist emerging silently by the
tap door could locate him without difficulty, steal upon
him unawares and !
But before that felling blow could be delivered Uncle
Jim's ear had caught a footfall, and he turned. Mr.
Polly quailed and lowered his broom, a fatal hesita-
" Now I got you ! " cried Uncle Jim, dancing forward
in a disconcerting zigzag.
He rushed to close, and Mr. Polly stopped him neatly,
as it were a miracle, with the head of the broom across
his chest. Uncle Jim seized the broom with both hands.
" Lea-go ! " he said, and tugged. Mr. Polly shook his
head, tugged, and showed pale, compressed lips. Both
tugged. Then Uncle Jim tried to get round the end of
the broom; Mr. Polly circled away. They began to
circle about one another, both tugging hard, both in-
tensely watchful of the slightest initiative on the part of
the other. Mr. Polly wished brooms were longer, twelve
or thirteen feet, for example ; Uncle Jim was clearly for
shortness in brooms. He wasted breath in saying what
was to happen shortly, sanguinary, oriental soul-blench-
THE POTWELL INN 281
ing things, when the broom no longer separated them.
Mr. Polly thought he had never seen an uglier person.
Suddenly Uncle Jim flashed into violent activity, but
alcohol slows movement, and Mr. Polly was equal to him.
Then Uncle Jim tried jerks, and for a terrible instant
seemed to have the broom out of Mr. Polly's hands. But
Mr. Polly recovered it with the clutch of a drowning
man. Then Uncle Jim drove suddenly at Mr. Polly's
midriff, but again Mr. Polly was ready and swept him
round in a circle. Then suddenly a wild hope filled Mr.
Polly. He saw the river was very near, the post to
which the punt was tied not three yards away. With a
wild yell, he sent the broom home into his antagonist's
" Woosh ! " he cried, as the resistance gave.
"Oh! Gaw!" said Uncle Jim, going backward help-
lessly, and Mr. Polly thrust hard and abandoned the
broom to the enemy's despairing clutch.
Splash! Uncle Jim was in the water and Mr. Polly
Had leapt like a cat aboard the ferry punt and grasped
Up came Uncle Jim spluttering and dripping. " You
(unprofitable matter, and printing it would lead to a
censorship of novels) ! You know I got a weak
The pole took him in the throat and drove him back-
ward and downwards.
" Lea go ! " cried Uncle Jim, staggering and with real
terror in his once awful eyes.
282 THE HISTORY. OF MR. POLLY
Splash ! Down he fell backwards into a frothing mass
of water with Mr. Polly jabbing at him. Under water
he turned round and came up again as if in flight to-
wards the middle of the river. Directly his head reap'
peared Mr. Polly had him between the shoulders and
under again, bubbling thickly. A hand clutched and
It was stupendous ! Mr. Polly had discovered the heel
of Achilles. Uncle Jim had no stomach for cold water.
The broom floated away, pitching gently on the swell.
Mr. Polly, infuriated with victory, thrust Uncle Jim
under again, and drove the punt round on its chain in
such a manner that when Uncle Jim came up for the
fourth time and now he was nearly out of his depth, too
buoyed up to walk and apparently nearly helpless,
Mr. Polly, fortunately for them both, could not reach
Uncle Jim made the clumsy gestures of those who
struggle insecurely in the water. " Keep out," said Mr.
Polly. Uncle Jim with a great effort got a footing,
emerged until his arm-pits were out of water, until his
waistcoat buttons showed, one by one, till scarcely two
remained, and made for the camp sheeting.
" Keep out ! " cried Mr. Polly, and leapt off the punt
and followed the movements of his victim along the
" I tell you I got a weak chess," said Uncle Jim,
moistly. " This ain't fair fightin'."
"Keep out! "said Mr. Polly.
THE POTWELL INN 283
" This ain't fair fightin'," said Uncle Jim, almost
weeping, and all his terrors had gone.
" Keep out ! " said Mr. Polly, with an accurately poised
" I tell you I got to land, you Fool,'* said Uncle Jim,
with a sort of despairing wrathfulness, and began mov-
" You keep out," said Mr. Polly in parallel movement.
" Don't you ever land on this place again ! . . ."
Slowly, argumentatively, and reluctantly, Uncle Jim
waded down-stream. He tried threats, he tried persua-
sion, he even tried a belated note of pathos; Mr. Polly
remained inexorable, if in secret a little perplexed as to
the outcome of the situation. " This cold's getting to
my marrer ! " said Uncle Jim.
" You want cooling. You keep out in it," said Mr.
They came round the bend into sight of Nicholson's
ait, where the backwater runs down to the Potwell Mill*
And there, after much parley and several feints, Uncle
Jim made a desperate effort and struggled into clutch of
the overhanging osiers on the island, and so got out
of the water with the millstream between them. He
emerged dripping and muddy and vindictive. " By
Caw! " he said. " I'll skin you for this ! "
" You keep off or I'll do worse to you," said Mr.
The spirit was out of Uncle Jim for the time, and he
turned away to struggle through the osiers towards the
284 THE HISTORY. 'OE MR. POLLY
mill, leaving a shining trail of water among the green-
Mr. Polly returned slowly and thoughtfully to the inn,
and suddenly his mind began to bubble with phrases.
The plump woman stood at the top of the steps that led
up to the inn door to greet him.
" Law ! " she cried as he drew near, " 'asn't 'e killed
"Do I look like it? " said Mr. Polly.
"But where's Jim?"
" Gone off."
" 'E was mad drunk and dangerous ! "
" I put him in the river," said Mr. Polly. " That
toned down his alcolaceous frenzy! I gave him a bit
of a doing altogether."
"Hain't he 'urt you?"
"Not a bit of it!"
" Then what's all that blood beside your ear ? "
Mr. Polly felt. " Quite a* cut ! Funny how one over-
looks things ! Heated moments ! He must have done
that when he jabbed about with those bottles. Hullo,
Kiddy! You venturing downstairs again?"
"Ain't he killed you?" asked the little girl.
" Well ! "
" I wish I'd seen more of the fighting."
" All I saw was you running round the house and
Uncle Jim after you."
THE POTWELL INN 285
There was a little pause. " I was leading him on,"
said Mr. Polly.
" Someone's shouting at the ferry," she said.
" Right O. But you won't see any more of Uncle Jim
for a bit. We've been having a conversazione about
" I believe it 'is Uncle Jim," said the little girl.
"Then he can wait," said Mr. Polly shortly.
He turned round and listened for the words that
drifted across from the little figure on the opposite bank.
So far as he could judge, Uncle Jim was making an ap-
pointment for the morrow. He replied with a defiant
movement of the punt .pole. The little figure was con-
vulsed for a moment and then went on its way upstream
So it was the first campaign ended in an insecure vic-
The next day was Wednesday and a slack day for the
Potwell Inn. It was a hot, close day, full of the mur-
muring of bees. One or two people crossed by the ferry,
an elaborately equipped fisherman stopped for cold meat
and dry ginger ale in the bar parlour, some haymakers
came and drank beer for an hour, and afterwards sent
jars and jugs by a boy to be replenished; that was all.
Mr. Polly had risen early and was busy about the place
meditating upon the probable tactics of Uncle Jim. He
286 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
was no longer strung up to the desperate pitch of the
first encounter. But he was grave and anxious. Uncle
Jim had shrunken, as all antagonists that are boldly
faced shrink, after the. first battle, to the negotiable, the
vulnerable. Formidable he was no doubt, but not in-
vincible. He had, under Providence, been defeated
once, and he might be defeated altogether.
Mr. Polly went about the place considering the mili-
tant possibilities of pacific things, pokers, copper sticks,
garden implements, kitchen knives, garden nets, barbed
wire, oars, clothes lines, blankets, pewter pots, stockings
and broken bottles. He prepared a club with a stocking
and a bottle inside upon the best East End model. He
swung it round his head once, broke an outhouse window
with a flying fragment of glass, and ruined the stocking
beyond all darning. He developed a subtle scheme with
the cellar flap as a sort of pitfall, but he rejected it
finally because (A) it might entrap the plump woman,
and (B) he had no use whatever for Uncle Jim in the
cellar. He determined to wire the garden that evening,
burglar fashion, against the possibilities of a night at-
Towards two o'clock in the afternoon three young
men arrived in a capacious boat from the direction of
Lammam, and asked permission to camp in the paddock.
It was given all the more readily by Mr. Polly because
he perceived in their proximity a possible check upon
the self-expression of Uncle Jim. But he did not foresee
and no one could have foreseen that Uncle Jim, stealing
THE POTWELL INN 287
tmawares upon the Potwell Inn in the late afternoon,
armed with a large rough-hewn stake, should have mis-
taken the bending form of one of those campers who
was pulling a few onions by permission in the garden
for Mr. Polly's, and crept upon it swiftly and silently
and smitten its wide invitation unforgettably and unfor-
giveably. It wns an error impossible to explain; the
resounding whack went up to heaven, the cry of amaze-
ment, and Mr. Polly emerged from the inn armed with
the frying-pan he was cleaning, to take this reckless
assailant in the rear. Uncle Jim, realising his error,
fled blaspheming into the arms of the other two campers,
who were returning; from the village with butcher's
meat and groceries. They caught him, they smacked
his face with steak and punched him with a bursting
parcel of lump sugar, they held him though he bit them,
and their idea of punishment was to duck him. They
were hilarious, strong young stockbrokers' clerks, Terri-
torials and seasoned boating men ; they ducked him as
though it was romping, and all that Mr. Polly had to
do was to pick up lumps of sugar for them and wipe
them on his sleeve and put them on a plate, and explain
that Uncle Jim was a notorious bad character and not
quite right in his head.
" Got a regular obsession that the Missis is his Aunt,"
said Mr. Polly, expanding it. " Perfect noosance he
But he caught a glance of Uncle Jim's eye as he
receded before the campers' urgency that boded ill for
288 THE HISTORY OF. MR. POLLY
him, and in the night he had a disagreeable idea that
perhaps his luck might not hold for the third occasion.
That came soon enough. So soon, indeed, as the
campers had gone.
Thursday was the early closing day at Lammam, and
next to Sunday the busiest part of the week at the Pot-
well Inn. Sometimes as many as six boats all at once
would be moored against the ferry punt and hiring row-
boats. People could either have a complete tea, a com-
plete tea with jam, cake and eggs, a kettle of boiling
water and find the rest, or refreshments a la carte, as
they choose. They sat about, but usually the boiling
water-ers had a delicacy about using the tables and
grouped themselves humbly on the ground. The com-
plete tea-ers with jam and eggs got the best tablecloth
on the table nearest the steps that led up to the glass-
panelled door. The groups about the lawn were very
satisfying to Mr. Polly's sense of amenity. To the right
were the complete tea-ers with everything heart could
desire, then a small group of three young men in re-
markable green and violet and pale-blue shirts, and two
girls in mauve and yellow blouses with common teas
and gooseberry jam at the green clothless table, then
on the grass down by the pollard willow a small family
of hot water-ers with a hamper, a little troubled by
wasps in their jam from the nest in the tree and all in
mourning, but happy otherwise, and on the lawn to the
right a ginger beer lot of 'prentices without their collars
and very jocular and happy. The young people in the
THE POTWELL INN 289
rainbow shirts and blouses formed the centre of interest ;
they were under the leadership of a gold-spectacled senior
with a fluting voice and an air of mystery; he ordered
everything, and showed a peculiar knowledge of the
qualities of the Potwell jams, preferring gooseberry
with much insistence. Mr. Polly watched him, chris-
tened him the " benifluoua influence," glanced at the
'prentices and went inside and down into the cellar in
order to replenish the stock of stone ginger beer which
the plump woman had allowed to run low during the
preoccupations of the campaign. It was in the cellar
that he first became aware of the return of Uncle Jim.
He became aware of him as a voice, a voice not only
hoarse, but thick, as voices thicken under the influence
" Where's that muddy- faced mongrel ? " cried Uncle
Jim. " Let 'im come out to me ! Where's that blighted
whisp with the punt pole I got a word to say to 'im.
Come out of it, you pot-bellied chunk of dirtiness, you!
Come out and 'ave your ugly face wiped. I got a
Thing for you. . . . 'Ear me?
" 'E's 'iding, that's what 'e's doing," said the voice of
Uncle Jim, dropping for a moment to sorrow, and then
with a great increment of wrathfulness : " Come out of
my nest, you blinking cuckoo, you, or I'll cut your silly
insides out! Come out of it you pock-marked rat!
Stealing another man's 'ome away from 'im ! Come out
and look me in the face, you squinting son of a
290 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
Mr. Polly took the ginger beer and went thoughtfully
upstairs to the bar.
" 'E's back," said the plump woman as he appeared.
" I knew Vd come back."
" I heard him," said Mr. Polly, and looked about.
" Just gimme the old poker handle that's under the beer
The door opened softly and Mr. Polly turned quickly.
But it was only the pointed nose and intelligent face of
fhe young man with the gplt spectacles and discreet
manner. He coughed and the spectacles fixed Mr.
" I say," he said with quiet earnestness. " There's a
chap out here seems to want someone."
" Why don't he come in ? " said Mr. Polly.
" He seems to want you out there."
"What's he want?"
" I think," said the spectacled young man after a
thoughtful moment, " he appears to have brought you a
present of fish."
"Isn't he shouting?"
" He is a little boisterous."
"He'd better come in."
The manner of the spectacled young man intensified.
" I wish you'd come out and persuade him to go away,"
he said. " His language isn't quite the thing ladies."
" It never was," said the plump woman, her voice
charged with sorrow.
Mr. Polly moved towards the door and stood with
THE POTWELL INN 291
his hand on the handle. The gold-spectacled face dis-
" Now, my man," came his voice from outside, " be
careful what you're saying "
" Oo in all the World and Hereafter are you to call
me, me man?" cried Uncle Jim in the voice of one
astonished and pained beyond endurance, and added
scornfully: "You gold-eyed Geezer, you!"
" Tut, tut ! " said the gentleman in gilt glasses. " Re-
strain yourself ! "
Mr. Polly emerged, poker in hand, just in time to see
what followed. Uncle Jim in his shirtsleeves and a state
of ferocious decolletage, was holding something yes !
a dead eel by means of a piece of newspaper about its
tail, holding it down and back and a little sideways in
such a way as to smite with it upward and hard. It
struck the spectacled gentleman under the jaw with a
peculiar dead thud, and a cry of horror came from the
two seated parties at the sight. One of the girls shrieked
piercingly, " Horace ! " and everyone sprang up. The
sense of helping numbers came to Mr. Polly's aid.
" Drop it ! " he cried, and came down the steps waving
his poker and thrusting the spectacled gentleman before
him as once heroes were wont to wield the ox-hide
Uncle Jim gave ground suddenly, and trod upon the
foot of a young man in a blue shirt, who immediately
thrust at him violently with both hands.
" Lea go ! " howled Uncle Jim. " That's the chap I'm
292 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
looking for ! " and pressing the head of the spectacled
gentleman aside, smote hard at Mr. Polly.
But at the sight of this indignity inflicted upon the
spectacled gentleman a woman's heart was stirred, and
a pink parasol drove hard and true at Uncle Jim's wiry
neck, and at the same moment the young man in the blue
shirt sought to collar him and lost his grip again.
" Suffragettes," gasped Uncle Jim with the ferule at
his throat. " Everywhere ! " and aimed a second more
successful blow at Mr. Polly.
"Wup!" said Mr. Polly.
But now the jam and egg party was joining in the fray.
A stout yet still fairly able-bodied gentleman in white
and black checks enquired : " What's the fellow up to ?
Ain't there no police here ? " and it was evident that once
more public opinion was rallying to the support of Mr.
" Oh, come on then all the LOT of you ! " cried Uncle
Jim, and backing dexterously whirled the eel round in a
destructive circle. The pink sunshade was torn from the
hand that gripped it and whirled athwart the complete,
but unadorned, tea things on the green table.
" Collar him ! Someone get hold of his collar ! " cried
the gold-spectacled gentleman, coming out of the scrim-
mage, retreating up the steps to the inn door as if to
rally his forces.
" Stand clear, you blessed mantel ornaments ! " cried
Uncle Jim, " stand clear ! " and retired backing, staving
off attack by means of the whirling eel.
THE POTWELL INN. 293
Mr. Polly, undeterred by a sense of grave damage
done to his nose, pressed the attack in front, the two
young men in violet and blue skirmished on Uncle Jim's
flanks, the man in white and black checks sought still
further outflanking possibilities } and two of the appren-
tice boys ran for oars. The gold-spectacled gentleman,
as if inspired, came down the wooden steps again, seized
the tablecloth of the jam and egg party, lugged it from
under the crockery with inadequate precautions against
breakage, and advanced with compressed lips, curious
lateral crouching movements, swift flashings of his
glasses, and a general suggestion of bull-fighting in his
pose and gestures. Uncle Jim was kept busy, and unable
to plan his retreat with any strategic soundness. He
was moreover manifestly a little nervous about the river
in his rear. He gave ground in a curve, and so came
right across the- rapidly abandoned camp of the family
in mourning, crunching a teacup under his heel, over-
setting the teapot, and finally tripping backwards over
the hamper. The eel flew out at a tangent from his
hand and became a mere looping relic on the sward.
" Hold him ! " cried the gentleman in spectacles.
" Collar him ! " and moving forward with extraordinary
promptitude wrapped the best tablecloth about Uncle
Jim's arms and head. Mr. Polly grasped his purpose
instantly, the man in checks was scarcely slower, and in
another moment Uncle Jim was no more than a bundle
of smothered blasphemy and a pair of wildly active
294 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
" Duck him ! " panted Mr. Polly, holding on to the
earthquake. " Bes' thing duck him."
The bundle was convulsed by paroxysms of anger and
protest. One boot got the hamper and sent it ten yards.
" Go in the house for a clothes line someone ! " said
the gentleman in gold spectacles. " He'll get out of
this in a moment."
One of the apprentices ran.
" Bird nets in the garden," shouted Mr. Polly. " In
the garden ! "
The apprentice was divided in his purpose.
And then suddenly Uncle Jim collapsed and became
a limp, dead seeming thing under their hands. His arms
were drawn inward, his legs bent up under his person,
and so he lay.
" Fainted ! " said the man in checks, relaxing, his
" A fit, perhaps," said the man in spectacles.
" Keep hold ! " said Mr. Polly, too late.
For suddenly Uncle Jim's arms and legs flew out like
springs released. Mr. Polly was tumbled backwards
and fell over the broken teapot and into the arms of the
father in mourning. Something struck his head daz-
zingly. In another second Uncle Jim was on his feet
and the tablecloth enshrouded the head of the man in
checks. Uncle Jim manifestly considered he had done
all that honour required of him, and against overwhelm-
ing numbers and the possibility of reiterated duckings,
flight is no disgrace.
THE POTWELL INN 295
Uncle Jim fled.
Mr. Polly sat up after an interval of an indeterminate
length among the ruins of an idyllic afternoon. Quite
a lot of things seemed scattered and broken, but it was
difficult to grasp it all at once. He stared between the
legs of people. He became aware of a voice, speaking
slowly and complainingly.
" Someone ought to pay for those tea things," said the
father in mourning. " We didn't bring them 'ere to be
danced on, not by no manner of means."
There followed an anxious peace for three days, and
then a rough man in a blue jersey, in the intervals of
trying to choke himself with bread and cheese and pickled
onions, broke out abruptly into information.
"Jim's lagged again, Missus," he said.
" What ! " said the landlady. " Our Jim? "
" Your Jim," said the man, and after an absolutely
necessary pause for swallowing, added : " Stealin' a
He did not speak for some moments, and then he re-
plied to Mr. Polly's enquiries : " Yes, a 'atchet. Down
Lammam way night before last."
"What'd 'e steal a 'atchet for?" asked the plump
"'E said 'e wanted a 'atchet."
" I wonder what he wanted a hatchet for ? " said Mr.
296 THE HISTORY 'OR MR. POLLY
" I dessay 'e 'ad a use for it," said the gentleman in
the blue jersey, and he took a mouthful that amounted to
conversational suicide. There was a prolonged pause
in the little bar, and Mr. Polly did some rapid thinking.
He went to the window and whistled. " I shall stick
it," he whispered at last. "'Atchets or no 'atchets."
He turned to the man with the blue jersey when he
thought him clear for speech again. " How much did
you say they'd given him ? " he asked.
" Three munce," said the man in the blue jersey, and
refilled anxiously, as if alarmed at the momentary clear-
ness of his voice.
Those three months passed all too quickly; months of
sunshine and warmth, of varied novel exertion in the
open air, of congenial experiences, of interest and whole-
some food and successful digestion, months that browned
Mr. Polly and hardened him and saw the beginnings of
his beard, months marred only by one anxiety, an anxiety
Mr. Polly did his utmost to suppress. The day of reck-
oning was never mentioned, it is true, by either the
plump woman or himself, but the name of Uncle Jim was
written in letters of glaring silence across their inter-
course. As the term of that respite drew to an end his
anxiety increased, until at last it even trenched upon his
well-earned sleep. He had some idea of buying a re-
volver. At last he compromised upon a small and very
THE POTWELL INN 297
foul and dirty rook rifle which he purchased in Lammam
under a pretext of bird scaring, and loaded carefully and
concealed under his bed from the plump woman's eye.
September passed away, October came.
And at last came that night in October whose happen-
ings it is so difficult for a sympathetic historian to drag
out of their proper nocturnal indistinctness into the clear,
hard light of positive statement. A novelist should pre-
sent characters, not vivisect them publicly. . . .
The best, the kindliest, if not the justest course is surely
to leave untold such things as Mr. Polly would mani-
festly have preferred untold.
Mr. Polly had declared that when the cyclist discovered
him he was seeking a weapon that should make a con-
clusive end to Uncle Jim. That declaration is placed
before the reader without comment.
The gun was certainly in possession of Uncle Jim at
that time and no human being but Mr. Polly knows how
he got hold of it.
The cyclist was a literary man named Warspite, who
suffered from insomnia; he had risen and come out of
his house near Lammam just before the dawn, and he
discovered Mr. Polly partially concealed in the ditch by
the Pot well churchyard wall. It is an ordinary dry
ditch, full of nettles and overgrown with elder and dog-
rose, and in no way suggestive of an arsenal. It is the
last place in which you would look for a gun. And
he says that when he dismounted to see why Mr. Polly
allowing only the latter part of his person to show
298 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
(and that it would seem by inadvertency), Mr. Polly
merely raised his head and advised him to " Look out ! "
and added : " He's let fly at me twice already." He
came out under persuasion and with gestures of extreme
caution. He was wearing a white cotton nightgown of
the type that has now been so extensively superseded by
pyjama sleeping suits, and his legs and feet were bare
and much scratched and torn and very muddy.
Mr. Warspite takes that exceptionally lively interest
in his fellow-creatures which constitutes so much of the
distinctive and complex charm of your novelist all the
world over, and he at once involved himself generously
in the case. The two men returned at Mr. Polly's initia-
tive across the churchyard to the Potwell Inn, and came
upon the burst and damaged rook rifle near the new
monument to Sir Samuel Harpon at the corner by the
" That must have been his third go," said Mr. Polly.
"It sounded a bit funny."
The sight inspirited him greatly, and he explained
further that he had fled to the churchyard on account of
the cover afforded by tombstones from the flight of small
shot. He expressed anxiety for the fate of the landlady
of the Potwell Inn and her grandchild, and led the way
with enhanced alacrity along the lane to that establish-
They found the doors of the house standing open,
the bar in some disorder several bottles of whisky were
afterwards found to be missing and Blake, the village
THE POTWELL INN 299
policeman, rapping patiently at the open door. He en-
tered with thehi. The glass in the bar had suffered
severely, and one of the mirrors was starred from a
blow from a pewter pot. The till had been forced and
ransacked, and so had the bureau in the minute room be-
hind the bar. An upper window was opened and the
voice of the landlady became audible making enquiries.
They went out and parleyed with her. She had locked
herself upstairs with the little girl, she said, and refused
to descend until she was assured that neither Uncle Jim
nor Mr. Polly's gun were anywhere on the premises.
Mr. Blake and Mr. Warspite proceeded to satisfy them-
selves with regard to the former condition, and Mr.
Polly went to his room in search of garments more
suited to the brightening dawn. He returned immedi-
ately with a request that Mr. Blake and Mr. Warspite
would " just come and look." They found the apartment
in a state of extraordinary confusion, the bedclothes in
a ball in the corner, the drawers all open and ransacked,
the chair broken, the lock of the door forced and broken,
one door panel slightly scorched and perforated by shot,
and the window wide open. None of Mr. Polly's clothes
were to be seen, but some garments which had apparently
once formed part of a stoker's workaday outfit, two
brownish yellow halves of a shirt, and an unsound pair
of boots were scattered on the floor. A faint smell of
gunpowder still hung in the air, and two or three books
Mr. Polly had recently acquired had been shied with
some violence under the bed. Mr. Warspite looked at
300 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
Mr. Blake, and then both men looked at Mr. Polly.
" That's his boots," said Mr. Polly.
Blake turned his eye to the window. " Some of these
tiles 'ave just got broken," he observed.
" I got out of trie window and slid down the scullery
tiles," Mr. Polly answered, omitting much, they both
felt, from his explanation. . . .
" Well, we better find 'im and 'ave a word with ? im,"
said Blake. " That's about my business now."
But Uncle Jim had gone altogether. . . .
He did not return for some days. That perhaps was
not very wonderful. But the days lengthened to weeks
and the weeks to months and still Uncle Jim did not
recur. A year passed, and the anxiety of him became
less acute ; a second healing year followed the first. One
afternoon about thirty months after the Night Surprise
the plump woman spoke of him.
" I wonder what's become of Jim/' she said.
"I wonder sometimes," said Mr. Polly.
CHAPTER THE TENTH
ONE summer afternoon about five years after
his first coming to the Potwell Inn Mr. Polly
, forr/d himself sitting under the pollard willow
'fishing for ,dace. It was a plumper, browner and health-
ier Mr. Polly altogether than the miserable bankrupt
with whose dyspeptic portrait our novel opened. He was
fat, but with a fatness more generally diffused, and the
lower part of his face was touched to gravity by a small
square beard. Also he was balder.
It was the first time he had found leisure to fish,
though from the very outset of his Potwell career he had
promised himself abundant indulgence in the pleasures of
fishing. Fishing, as the golden page of English litera-
ture testifies, is a meditative and retrospective pursuit,
and the varied page of memory, disregarded so long for
sake of the teeming duties I have already enumerated,
began to unfold itself to Mr. Polly's consideration. A
speculation, about Uncle Jim died for want of material,
and gave place to a reckoning of the years and months
that had passed since his coming to Potwell, and that to
a philosophical review of his life. He began to think
304 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
about Miriam, remotely and impersonally. He remem-
bered many things that had been neglected by his con-
science during the busier times, as, for example, that
he had committed arson and deserted a wife. For the
first time he looked these long neglected facts in the face.
It is disagreeable to think one has committed Arson,
because it is an action that leads to jail. Otherwise I do
not think there was a grain of regret for that in Mr.
Polly's composition. But deserting Miriam was in a
different category. Deserting Miriam was mean.
This is a history and not a glorification of Mr. Polly,
and I tell of things as they were with him. Apart from
the disagreeable twinge arising from the thought of
what might happen if he was found out, he had not the
slightest remorse about that fire. Arson, after all, is an
artificial crime. Some crimes are crimes in themselves,
would be crimes without any law, the cruelties, mockery,
the breaches of faith that astonish and wound, but the
burning of things is in itself neither good nor bad. A
large number of houses deserve to be burnt, most mod-
ern furniture, an overwhelming majority of pictures and
books one might go on for some time with the list. If
our community was collectively anything more than a
feeble idiot, it would burn most of London and Chicago,
for example, and build sane and beautiful cities in the
place of these pestilential heaps of rotten private prop-
erty. I have failed in presenting Mr. Polly altogether if
I have not made you see that he was in many respects
an artless child of Nature, far more untrained, undis-
MIRIAM REVISITED 305
ciplined and spontaneous than an ordinary savage. And
he was really glad, for all that little drawback of fear,
that he had the courage to set fire to his house and fly
and come to the Potwell Inn.
But he was not glad he had left Miriam. He had seen
Miriam cry once or twice in his life, and it had always
reduced him to abject commiseration. He now imagined
her crying. He perceived in a perplexed way that he
had made himself responsible for her life. He forgot
how she had spoilt his own. He had hitherto rested in
the faith that she had over a hundred pounds of insur-
ance money, but now, with his eye meditatively upon his
float, he realised a hundred pounds does not last for
ever. His conviction of her incompetence was unflinch-
ing; she was bound to have fooled it away somehow by
this time. And then!
He saw her humping her shoulders and sniffing in a
manner he had always regarded as detestable at close
quarters, but which now became harrowingly pitiful.
" Damn ! " said Mr. Polly, and down went his float and
he flicked up a victim to destruction and took it off the
He compared his own comfort and health with
Miriam's imagined distress.
" Ought to have done something for herself," said Mr.
Polly, rebaiting his hook. " She was always talking of
doing things. Why couldn't she ? "
He watched the float oscillating gently towards quies-
306 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
" Silly to begin thinking about her/' he said. " Damn
But once he had begun thinking about her he had to
" Oh blow ! " cried Mr. Polly presently, and pulled up
his hook to find another fish had just snatched at it in
the last instant. His handling must have made the poor
thing feel itself unwelcome.
He gathered his things together and turned towards
All the Potwell Inn betrayed his influence now, for
here indeed he had found his place in the world. It
looked brighter, so bright indeed as to be almost skittish,
with the white and green paint he had lavished upon it.
Even the garden palings were striped white and green,
and so were the boats, for Mr. Polly was one of those
who find a positive sensuous pleasure in the laying on of
paint. Left and right were two large boards which had
done much to enhance the inn's popularity with the
lighter-minded variety of pleasure-seekers. Both marked
innovations. One bore in large letters the single word
" Museum," the other was as plain and laconic with
" Omlets ! " The spelling of the latter word was Mr.
Polly's own, but when he had seen a whole boatload of
men, intent on Lammam for lunch, stop open-mouthed,
and stare and grin and come in and asked in a marked
sarcastic manner for " omlets," he perceived that his in-
accuracy had done more for the place than his utmost
cunning could have contrived. In a year or so the inn
MIRIAM REVISITED 307
was known both up and down the river by its new name
of " Omlets," and Mr. Polly, after some secret irrita-
tion, smiled and was content. And the fat woman's
omelettes were things to remember.
(You will note I have changed her epithet. Time
works upon us all.)
She stood upon the steps as he came towards the
house, and smiled at hirn richly.
" Caught many ? " she asked.
" Got an idea," said Mr. Polly. " Would it put you
out very much if I w r ent off for a day or two for a bit
of a holiday? There won't be much doing now until
Feeling recklessly secure behind his beard Mr. Polly
surveyed the Fishbourne High Street once again. The
north side was much as he had known it except that
Rusper had vanished. A row of new shops replaced the
destruction of the great fire. Mantell and Throbson's
had risen again upon a more flamboyant pattern, and the
neu fire station was in the Swiss-Teutonic style and with
much red paint. Next door in the place of Rumbold's was
a branch of the Colonial Tea Company, and then a
Salmon and Gluckstein Tobacco Shop, and then a little
shop that displayed sweets and professed a " Tea Room
Upstairs." He considered this as a possible place in
which to prosecute enquiries about his lost wife, wavering
a little between it and the God's Providence Inn down
308 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
the street. Then his eye caught a name over the window,
" Polly," he read, " & Larkins ! Well, I'm astonished ! "
A momentary faintness came upon him. He walked
past and down the street, returned and surveyed the shop
He saw a middle-aged, rather untidy woman standing
behind the counter, whom for an instant he thought might
be Miriam terribly changed, and then recognised as his
sister-in-law Annie, filled out and no longer hilarious.
She stared at him without a sign of recognition as he
entered the shop.
" Can I have tea? " said Mr. Polly.
" Well," said Annie, " you can. But our Tea Room's
upstairs. . . . My sister's been cleaning it out and
it's a bit upset."
" It would be," said Mr. Polly softly.
" I beg your pardon ? " said Annie.
" I said / didn't mind. Up here? "
" I daresay there'll be a table," said Annie, and fol-
lowed him up to a room whose conscientious disorder was
intensely reminiscent of Miriam.
" Nothing like turning everything upside down when
you're cleaning," said Mr. Polly cheerfully.
" It's my sister's way," said Annie impartially. " She's
gone out for a bit of air, but I daresay she'll be back soon
to finish. It's a nice light room when it's tidy. Can I put
you a table over there ? "
" Let me," said Mr. Polly, and assisted.
He sat down by the open window and drummed on
MIRIAM REVISITED 309
the table and meditated on his next step while Annie
vanished to get his tea. After all, things didn't seem so
bad with Miriam. He tried over several gambits in
" Unusual name," he said as Annie laid a cloth before
Annie looked interrogation.
" Polly. Polly & Larkins. Real, I suppose? "
" Polly's my sister's name. She married a Mr.
" Widow I presume ? " said Mr. Polly.
'"' Yes. This five years come October."
" Lord ! " said Mr. Polly in unfeigned surprise.
" Found drowned he was. There was a lot of talk in
" Never heard of it," said Mr. Polly. " I'm a stranger
" In the Medway near Maidstone. He must have been
in the water for days. Wouldn't have known him, my
sister wouldn't, if it hadn't been for the name sewn in his
clothes. All whitey and eat away he was."
" Bless my heart ! Must have been rather a shock for
" It was a shock," said Annie, and added darkly : " But
sometimes a shock's better than a long agony."
" No doubt," said Mr. Polly.
He gazed with a rapt expression at the preparations
before him. " So I'm drowned," something was saying
inside him. " Life insured ? " he asked.
310 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
" We started the tea rooms with it," said Annie.
Why, if things were like this, had remorse and anxiety
for Miriam been implanted in his soul? No shadow of
an answer appeared.
" Marriage is a lottery," said Mr. Polly.
" She found it so," said Annie. " Would you like some
" I'd like an egg," said Mr. Polly. " I'll have two.
I've got a sort of feeling . As though I wanted keep-
ing up. . . . Wasn't particularly good sort, this Mr.
" He was a wearing husband," said Annie. " I've often
pitied my sister He was one of that sort "
"Dissolute?" suggested Mr. Polly faintly.
"No," said Annie judiciously; "not exactly dissolute.
Feeble's more the word. Weak, 'E was. Weak as
water. 'Ow long do you like your eggs boiled ? "
" Four minutes exactly," said Mr. Polly.
" One gets talking," said Annie.
" One does," said Mr. Polly, and she left him to his
What perplexed him was his recent remorse and ten-
derness for Miriam. Now he was back in her atmosphere
all that had vanished, and the old feeling of helpless an-
tagonism returned. He surveyed the piled furniture, the
economically managed carpet, the unpleasing pictures on
the wall. Why had he felt remorse? Why had he en-
tertained this illusion of a helpless woman crying aloud
in the pitiless darkness for him? He peered into the
MIRIAM REVISITED 311
unfathomable mysteries of the heart, and ducked back
to a smaller issue. Was he feeble ?
The eggs came up. Nothing in Annie's manner invited
a resumption of the discussion.
" Business brisk? " he ventured to ask.
Annie reflected. " It is," she said, " and it isn't. It's
" Ah ! " said Mr. Polly, and squared himself to his egg.
" Was there an inquest on that chap ? "
" What was his name ? Polly ! "
" Of course."
" You're sure it was him ? "
" What you mean ? "
Annie looked at him hard, and suddenly his soul was
black with terror.
" Who else could it have been in the very does 'e
wore ? "
" Of course," said Mr. Polly, and began his egg. He
was so agitated that he only realised its condition when
he was half way through it and Annie safely downstairs.
" Lord ! " he said, reaching out hastily for the pepper.
" One of Miriam's ! Management ! I haven't tasted
such an egg for five years. . . . Wonder where she
gets them ! Picks them out, I suppose ! "
He abandoned it for its fellow.
Except for a slight mustiness the second egg was very
palatable indeed. He was getting on to the bottom of it
as Miriam came in. He looked up. " Nice afternoon,"
312 THE HISTORY OF. MR. POLLY
he said at her stare, and perceived she knew him at once
by the gesture and the voice. She went white and shut
the door behind her. She looked as though she was
going to faint. Mr. Polly sprang up quickly and handed
her a chair. " My God ! " she whispered, and crumpled
up rather than sat down.
" It's you," she said.
" No," said Mr. Polly very earnestly. " It isn't. It
just looks like me. That's all."
" I knew that man wasn't you all along. I tried to
think it was. I tried to think perhaps the water had
altered your wrists and feet and the colour of your hair."
" Ah ! "
" I'd_ always feared you'd come back."
Mr. Polly sat down by his egg. " I haven't come
back," he said very earnestly. " Don't you think it."
" 'Ow we'll pay back the insurance now I don't know."
She was weeping. She produced a handkerchief and
covered her face.
" Look here, Miriam," said Mr. Polly. " I haven't
come back and I'm not coming back. I'm I'm a Visi-
tant from Another World. You shut up about me and
I'll shut up about myself. I came back because I thought
you might be hard up or in trouble or some silly thing
like that. Now I see you again I'm satisfied. Fin
satisfied completely. See? I'm going to absquatulate,
see ? Hey Presto right away."
He turned to his tea for a moment, finished his cup
noisily, stood up.
MIRIAM REVISITED 313
"Don't you think you're going to see me again," he
said, " for you ain't."
He moved to the door.
" That was a tasty egg," he said, hovered for a second
Annie was in the shop.
" The missus has had a bit of a shock," he remarked.
" Got some sort of fancy about a ghost. Can't make it
out quite. So Long ! "
And he had gone.
Mr. Polly sat beside the fat woman at one of the little
green tables at the back of the Potwell Inn, and struggled
with the mystery of life. It was one of those evenings,
serenely luminous, amply and atmospherically still, when
the river bend was at its best. A swan floated against
the dark green masses of the further bank, the stream
flowed broad and shining to its destiny, with scarce a rip-
ple except where the reeds came out from the headland
the three poplars rose clear and harmonious against a
sky of green and yellow. And it was as if it was all
securely within a great warm friendly globe of crystal
sky. It was as safe and enclosed and fearless as a child
that has still to be born. It was an evening full of the
quality of tranquil, unqualified assurance. Mr. Polly's
mind was filled with the persuasion that indeed all things
whatsoever must needs be satisfying and complete. It
was incredible that life has ever done more than seemed
3H THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY
to jar, that there could be any shadow in life save such
velvet softnesses as made the setting for that silent swan,
or any murmur but the ripple of the water as it swirled
round the chained and gently swaying punt. And the
mind of Mr. Polly, exalted and made tender by this at-
mosphere, sought gently, but sought, to draw together
the varied memories that came drifting, half submerged,
across the circle of his mind.
He spoke in words that seemed like a bent and broken
stick thrust suddenly into water, destroying the mirror
of the shapes they sought. " Jim's not coming back
again ever," he said. " He got drowned five years
" Where? " asked the fat woman, surprised.
" Miles from here. In the Medway. Away in Kent."
" Lor ! " said the fat woman.
" It's right enough," said Mr. Polly.
" How d'you know ? "
" I went to my home."
" Don't matter. I went and found out. He'd been in
the water some days. He'd got my clothes and they'd
said it was me."
" It don't matter. I'm not going back to them."
The fat woman regarded him silently for some time.
Her expression of scrutiny gave way to a quiet satis-
faction. Then her brown eyes went to the river.
" Poor Jim," she said. " 'E 'adn't much Tact ever."
MIRIAM REVISITED 315
She added mildly : " I can't 'ardly say I'm sorry."
" Xor me," said Mr. Polly, and got a step nearer the
thought in him. " But it don't seem much good his
having been alive, does it ? "
" 'E wasn't much good," the fat woman admitted.
" I suppose there were things that were good to him,"
Mr. Polly speculated. " They weren't our things."
His hold slipped again. " I often wonder, about life,"
he said weakly.
He tried again. " One seems to start in life," he said,
" expecting something. And it doesn't happen. And it
doesn't matter. One starts with ideas that things are
good and things are bad and it hasn't much relation to
what is good and what is bad. I've always been the skep-
taceous sort, and it's always seemed rot to me to pretend
we know good from evil It's just what I've never done.
No Adam's apple stuck in my throat, ma'am. I don't own
" I set fire to a house once."
The fat woman started.
" I don't feel sorry for it. I don't believe it was a bad
thing to do any more than burning a toy like I did once
when I was a baby. I nearly killed myself with a razor.
Who hasn't? anyhow gone as far as thinking of it?
Most of my time I've been half dreaming. I married
like a dream almost. I've never really planned my life
or set out to live. I happened; things happened to me.
316 THE HISTORY OF, MR. POLLY.
It's so with everyone. Jim couldn't help himself. I shot
at him and tried to kill him. I dropped the gun and he
got it. He very nearly had me. I wasn't a second too
soon ducking. . . . Awkward that night was.
. . . M'mm. . . . But I don't blame him come
to that. Only I don't see what it's all up to. ...
" Like children playing about in a nursery. Hurt
themselves at times. . . .
" There's something that doesn't mind us," he resumed
presently. " It isn't what we try to get that we get, it
isn't the good we think we do is good. What makes us
happy isn't our trying, what makes others happy isn't
our trying. There's a sort of character people like and
stand up for and a sort they won't. You got to work it
out and take the consequences. . . . Miriam was al-
" Who was Miriam? " asked the fat woman.
" No one you know. But she used to go about with her
brows knit trying not to do whatever she wanted to do
if ever she did want to do anything "
He lost himself.
" You can't help being fat," said the fat woman after a
pause, trying to get up to his thoughts.
" You can't," said Mr. Polly.
" It helps and it hinders."
" Like my upside down way of talking."
" The magistrates wouldn't 'ave kept on the license to
me if I 'adn't been fat. . . ."
" Then what have we done," said Mr. Polly, " to get
MIRIAM REVISITED 317
an evening 1 like this ? Lord ! look at it ! " He sent his
arm round the great curve of the sky.
" If I was a nigger or an Italian I should come out
here and sing. I whistle sometimes, but bless you, it's
singing I've got in my mind. Sometimes I think I live
" I don't see that it does you any good always looking
at sunsets like you do," said the fat woman.
" Nor me. But I do. Sunsets and things I was made
4 They don't 'elp you," said the fat woman thought-
" Who cares? " said Mr. Polly.
A deeper strain had come to the fat woman. " You
got to die some day," she said.
" Some things I can't believe," said Mr. Polly suddenly,
" and one is your being a skeleton. . . ." He pointed
his hand towards the neighbour's hedge. " Look at 'em
against the yellow and they're just stingin' nettles.
Nasty weeds if you count things by their uses. And no
help in the life hereafter. But just look at the look of
them ! "
" It isn't only looks," said the fat woman.
" Whenever there's signs of a good sunset and I'm not
too busy," said Mr. Polly, " I'll come and sit out here."
The fat woman looked at him with eyes in whichi
contentment struggled with some obscure reluctant pro-
test, and at last turned them slowly to the black nettle
pagodas against the golden sky.
318 THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY.
" I wish we could," she said.
" I will."
The fat woman's voice sank nearly to the inaudible.
" Not always," she said.
Mr. Polly was some time before he replied. " Come
here always when I'm a ghost," he replied.
" Spoil the place for others," said the fat woman,
abandoning her moral solicitudes for a more congenial
point of view.
" Not my sort of ghost wouldn't," said Mr. Polly,
emerging from another long pause. " I'd be a sort of
diaphalous feeling just mellowish and warmish
like. . . ."
They said no more, but sat on in the warm twilight
until at last they could scarcely distinguish each other's
faces. They were not so much thinking as lost in a
smooth, still quiet of the mind. A bat flitted by.
" Time we was going in, O' Party," said Mr. Polly,
standing up. " Supper to get. It's as you say, we can't
sit here for ever."
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